schedule
Modern Medicine

Discussion: Life without Modern Medicine

How would your life be different without access to the last century of medical innovation? Discuss.

“There are now diseases of which people never dreamt before, and an army of doctors is engaged in finding out their cures, and so hospitals have increased. This is a test of civilization.” — Niall Ferguson

Book Excerpt: Médecins sans Frontières

What are the killer apps?

  1. Life would be worse. It’s amazing what medicine has done for us, but at the same time widely unequal access to its gifts is tragic.

  2. My life wouldn’t be. Without penicillin I may not have survived rheumatic fever at age 8, or would have continued life with life-altering or life-threatening heart complications. In 1997, at age 42, without access to albuterol and quick acting intravenous and inhaled corticosteroids I not have survived an acute asthma attack. No doubt about it. 100 years ago, I might not have lived to adulthood or certainly not beyond age the age of 25 (the first time I was hospitalized for asthma). Today, my asthma is under control and does not prevent from doing anything I want to in my life. My ulcerative colitis is under control and does not adversely affect my life due to medicines developed withing the last 20 years.

    • My wife’s family has a private cemetery. Whenever I visit, I ponder the corner that is populated by a bunch of small grave markers – mostly just stones and bricks, many with no names at all on them – where they buried the children. Lots of children. We tend to forget how high infant and childhood mortality used to be. These small grave markers serve as a reminder for me.

    • i feel that medicine has stop people from seeing our true potential as a race. we have stopped natural selection. i personally would rather die than have to be hooked to a mechanism that does my bodily functions because my body can no longer do so. we have remember that we are still animals whether you think so or not.

  3. Medical innovation has definitely improved our ability to survive, lowered death rates, increased life expectancy, etc…

    At the same time it’s increased certain expectations, financial burdens…

    It’s really hard (and maybe meaningless) to consider it own its own / separate from all other acceleration that’s taken place.

    I also worry about the direction it may be taking or new thresholds it may be crossing… Camille says that her life “wouldn’t be” without modern medicine… I worry that in the future my life “wouldn’t be” because we’ll be redefining human life in new extreme ways w/biotechnologies… perhaps a little off topic, though.

    I think among the 6 “apps” this is probably the most positive and least controversial (aside from any controversies that may rise within/about aspects of this “app,” not to mention the kind of crazy way it’s presented: “sure colonialism had its downsides, but…”)

    but yeah, medicine… good stuff.

  4. One significant way that “modern medicine” worked was through the successful embrace of fact-based, evidence-based, science. I thought of this as I watched the photographs of the attire of world cultures – how each culture was so vividly expressed by its clothing conventions. Each culture’s clothing was a function of environment, initially and — to a degree which lessened as local civilization advanced — by culture/tradition.

    Medicine, on the other hand, came around in this pre-WW1 period to embrace a ‘universality’ based upon truly scientific understanding of human physiology & biochemistry. This enabled Western science to advance its findings and health improvements at a far faster rate since it no longer had to consider, say, the black or Indian or Japanese, et al, as each having separate biological characteristics & operations. Instead of a scattered & poorly understood marketplace for science’s cures, the West’s medical sciences now had a huge global one.

    BTW – can anyone tell me what that photgraphic atlas of world cultures was – on the Conclusion segment of the Civilization West and the Rest show? Who brought that album or encyclopedia into being, and for what purpose? What was the name that Niall Ferguson spoke when he introduced that subject?

  5. Just watched the Killer Apps, the worst piece of xtian/capitalist propaganda in ages, made me sick. Cringe-inducing garbage. What is much worse is that the lemming masses will crap swallow this as usual
    PBS, this is a new low

    • Igor, you must be all of 8 years old boy. Wait till you gro up to make a comment!

  6. >calling Russians “dumb & ugly”
    >calling Protestantism the superior ideology that is directly responsible for human success
    >calling for return to religion
    >praising expanse of protesantism in developing countries
    and so on in the same vein, christian/capitalist propagandist garbage

    stay classy Niall

  7. I posted earlier a request for help regarding the show’s part about shifts away from native culture dress. I found the answer. .

    It was the Singer sewing machine company that made ‘cards’ of native culture attire, using Singer equipment.

  8. Niall Ferguson = Master of Conflation, half-truths and BS. Let’s only focus on the the ‘killer app’ (good god, that is nauseating) of medicine and colonization: Fergie claims that European imperialists had to overcome the ‘grinding poverty’ of Africans in order to successfully overrun Africa. He also states that Europeans successfully treated malaria, yellow fever, etc in the colonies, implying that this was a boon for Africans. Well, it was, but you can’t forget that prior to European conquest, Africans lived in settlements which controlled malaria; and cholera and other diseases appeared WITH the first Europeans and resulted from slavery, dislocation, war. Which also explains why Europeans encountered so much ‘grinding poverty int eh late 19th century in Africa.

    That the French were great colonial humanitarians is laughable.

    • Good point about the Africans having learned to live in small vilages on hilltops, thus avoiding much of the exposure to disease vectors. Euro-colonists, stupid as they were, set up shop near the riverine bottomlands and dropped like flies. The point that Dr. Ferguson started to make – that it was only their development of vaccines, etc., that enabled the Europeans to successfully make a go of it – was in fact valid. However, that was only of benefit to the Europeans, and thus a “killer app” for them. The claim that the Africans were also beneficiaries, let alone the main ones, does seem to be a little more of a stretch. In his book, at least, he does acknowledge that any benefit was far from uniform. For those Africans unfortunate enough to be living under the Belgians, for example, it has to be said that there was no benefit whatsoever, only tremendous suffering.

  9. The really huge gains in life expectancy were due to just a very few things: basic sanitation and water treatment; basic personal hygene; improved nutrition and food security; sterile medical procedures; and vaccines. Most of the other things that we have done – food & drug, consumer product, transport, industrial & building safety regulation, for example, and most other medical innovations – have mostly served to bump life expectancies up marginally.

Funding provided by
Kenneth and Anne Griffin
Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation
Marie-Josée & Henry R. Kravis Foundation
Peter Thiel and the Thiel Foundation
James and Merryl Tisch
Joan Ganz Cooney and Peter G. Peterson
A production of Chimerica Media Ltd. in association with Thirteen and WNET.
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.