While cleaning out my old files, I discovered this little paper that I had written over 30 years ago for a class I was taking. Though the numbers and a few details have changed, I can't say my thoughts are much different today. So I'm posting it as written.
(P.S. I received an A-.)
An article in Parade Magazine caught my eye last week. It was titled "A World Without Disease." The article told us to "imagine a new world, a world in which disease no longer kills or maims, ... (where) there is ample food to feed all people because crops also resist disease." It promised that this is no science fiction tale and that we are on our way to this because of the marvelous new science of genetic engineering.
We've all read stuff like this before, haven't we? Is it possible? Or is this somebody's utopian dream, a sugar pill for the problems of the world? I believe that it is just a dream, impossible of fulfilling. Not only that, but setting our hopes on a world without suffering through science may divert us from making real efforts to alleviate suffering in the world.
There are moral problems with this idea. I'm not speaking of ethical implications of tampering with human life; I'm speaking of the moral implications of rich versus poor, of developed nations versus undeveloped. The majority of funds spent on research in this area is being spent in the western world. Cures are being found through genetic engineering and other research, people are being relieved from suffering, but who are these people? Their number mainly includes those of the upper and middle classes of the richer nations. Do we have any indication that their number will ever include those of the lower classes of the world - those who are really suffering?
The sheer mathematics of world population growth belies the idea that one day we will have cured the ills of the whole world. The population of this planet now stands somewhere between 4.75 and 5 billion. The World Bank estimates that by the year 2025, forty years from now, world population will be somewhere near 8.3 billion, almost double today's figure. The greater number of these is, and will be, found in the under- developed nations. Do we really believe that we will be able to cure the ills of all these? We are unable even to feed them. The images of starving Ethiopian children staring at us from our TV screens during the evening news are a reminder of that fact. Can we cure their diseases without first relieving them of starvation?
Another problem with the elimination of disease in the world is the problem of administration. Who is capable of initiating and carrying through a disease control program in any of the underdeveloped nations of the world? Corrupt and inept govern-ments in many nations do not desire that larger nations dictate the use of foreign aid. Who is going to convince them that they need to eliminate disease?
There have been successes in disease control in the underdeveloped nations. A recent report on 20/20 centered on a medical team in Bangladesh which had virtually eliminated cholera deaths in a certain region at a cost of only a few cents per person. Their problem, however, was that even for its low cost there were not enough funds available, though funds are being invested in medical research elsewhere.
Shall we then discontinue medical research and spend all our time, money and effort on other matters? I'm not saying that. I have a grandson with a congenital defect. He would not be alive today if it were not for medical discoveries made in the recent past. I hope too that someday a cure for his illness will be discovered. Genetic research and engineering does hold promise. But there are others with the same and other defects who will never be cured. There ought to be a balance between the enormous amount spend on medical research for the few, and the relatively small amount spent on helping the many.
We are a rich nation. Perhaps we can eliminate disease here. But what about the rest of the world? Are we to ignore their need? Does our hope for the future only include ourselves? Maybe we cannot find a solution for all the world's ills, but that does not mean that we ought not to put more money and effort into relieving the suffering of as many as we can. The Bible says, "The poor will never cease to be in the land." To let utopian thinking cause us to forget that, will also cause us to forget what follows, "You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to the needy and poor in the land" (Deuteronomy 15:11). The great danger of false utopias is that we do not make an effort to relieve the sufferings of the poor in the world.