A Science Odyssey Title Medicine and Health Title

non-tabled version

American life expectancy has increased by more than 30 years in the past century. The limitations of medical practice dissolve with the passing years, as new knowledge and equipment enable doctors to do what was once impossible. As scientists and physicians continue to push the expanded boundaries of medical science, society must weigh the miraculous possibilities against psychological and social burdens, and make choices that once were left to fate. How far are we willing to go to prolong life? Who will benefit from new medical practices -- and at what cost?

Program Contents

From the days of house-calls, when x-rays were a daring innovation, to the era of high-tech hospitals and specialist physicians, "Matters of Life and Death" tracks the passion and determination of medical work in the twentieth century. Dramatic experiments, the "politics" of science, and races against the clock form a backdrop to the discovery of new treatments, antibiotics, and advances in surgery and medical technology that have lengthened our lives and caused us to rethink our assumptions about life and death.

Hour 1 subtitle Hour 2 subtitle

Pan American Exhibition, 1901

Medical science in the age of McKinley

Bubonic Plauge
How do we fight disease?
  • Plague in San Francisco, 1899
  • Public health policy -- a product of its time
  • War on rats defeats a second epidemic
  • New understanding of public health

Prevention versus cure
  • Joseph Goldberger seeks causes of pellagra
  • Observation and experimentation
  • The link between poverty and disease

Living with disease
  • Dire treatments for a fatal disease
    ANIMATION: Functions of the pancreas
  • Frederick Banting and Charles Best's experiments
  • Setbacks, successes, and squabbles
  • The price of survival

A drug that changes history
  • Alexander Fleming's work in WWI
  • Fleming's 1929 discovery of penicillin
  • Turning a discovery into a cure
  • Mass production and massive change

Postwar optimism

Heart Surgery
Another medical barrier collapses
  • Daring heart experiments in WWII
  • New procedures help surgeons beat the clock
  • The heart-lung machine opens new possibilities

Organ Transplants
New solutions, new dilemmas
  • Fighting rejection -- the road to transplants
  • Doctors face new doubts and pressures
  • First heart transplant, 1967
  • Success and its side effects

Growing knowledge of an old enemy
  • Increased lung cancer raises questions
  • Smoking and other carcinogens
  • Treatments -- chemotherapy and childhood leukemia
  • Scientists find cancer-controlling genes
  • Search for root causes

The Role of Modern Medicine
Worldwide challenges
  • Guinea worm parasite
  • Health in developing nations
  • The aging population

Using twentieth-century knowledge
Activities Title

Public Health Task Force
In Dangerous Times
What Happens When . . . ?
In-Depth Investigation: Disease Detectives

Home | Resources for Educators Menu | Educator's Guide Contents | Help

WGBH | PBS Online | Search | Feedback | Shop
© 1998 WGBH