Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Side-Effects of Healthcare

The other day, discussion over lunch turned towards the popular subject of Jews. How brilliant they are. How shrewd they are. How most of the Nobel prizes in basic sciences have gone to Jews and so on. We also got to hear the natural selection arguments -- that says that the centuries of persecution of Jews has made sure that only the best of the best of them survive. That has resulted in a small but extremely purified gene pool among the present Jewish population.

This naturally led us to the undying arguments about the fundamental effect of improved healthcare on human race. In short, healthcare's main function is to support the life of the diseased. In general, it also means that it supports those lives who would otherwise have been lost because their bodies are too weak to survive. That means, healthcare is defying the basic law of natural selection which results in the survival of the fittest. Healthcare will result in the survival of the unfit too. We being in the healthcare industry can say how much rejoicing there is in the industry because the world population is growing older and there's a huge growing market for healthcare products and services. How, then, do we expect the human race to become stronger in the long run?

I think the argument is strong. But I have the following doubts:
Is it possible to defy the law of natural selection in the long run? If these bad guys whom healthcare is making live longer are finally going to meet their grievous end a few hundred generations down the line, the point of natural selection is reaffirmed, albiet a bit late. What big deal is that in the billion year long Earth calender? Natural selection seems to prove its point whether it sets in or not. What I mean is if these bad guys do manage to survive till doomsday, then they are the fit ones. It's just the 'fitness' gets redefined. Whoever said that fitness is just physical fitness?
The above point apart, is there any harm done by letting these unfit individuals exist by the side of the fit ones? OK, there will be cross breeding resulting in poorer gene pool. But there will still be some to carry the pure genes. How does that reduce the chances of the survival of the entire species is hard to comprehend.

Anyway, just to give a corny philosophical close to the discussion, it's said that death is nature's way to give way to new things. Had there been no death, there would have been no need to evolve, no need to innovate, no need to improve. No species would have seen the best of itself had there been no death. Death is after all not such a bad thing. If the average human life is about 75 years, we anyway lose 1/75 of the world population every year. That must be a huge number! Then why does death shock us so much? Why do we care so much to avoid it? These are innocent comtemplative questions, not condescending ones. Which means, death does shock me. And I care to avoid it at all cost for myself and my dear ones. But I don't know why!


Pritesh said...

You've opened an argument very close to my heart Sujit. Though health-care is allowing relatively unfit individuals to live, human created factors (like wars etc) are still taking care of eliminating population that can't survive the 'man-made' environment. Fitness surely has gone beyond mere physical fitness and there is room for other 'factors'that allow us to survive. It's hard to say whether natural selection IS at play here or not. A smarter person who earns enough money to afford good health-care to sustain a very weak physical stature is naturally fit or not? This is a question a little complex to answer!

And as far as the shock of death is concerned, it sure is a very difficult thing to answer. Though we all DO put up with death of people we know, the momentary grief probably is too much to take. Which in itself is a little ironical because the only thing certain when we are born is that we WILL die!

fuse me said...

Interesting point. Not only health-care, there are many many rules and regulations and facilities and structures that man has built and made which is against the laws of nature. But the irony is that, the laws of nature are also discovered by man (if there are any such laws). Are there any laws of nature or are they inventions of our wonderful mind just like these artificial things like health-care? What I think, is that man has already created and destroyed and modified several rules of the game (if there are any), so what on earth is natural selection?

Sambaran said...

While going through your musings about death, my first thought was the following:

The Yaksha: "What is the greatest wonder in the world?"
Yudhishthira replied: "Every day, men see creatures depart to Yama's abode and yet, those who remain seek to live forever. This verily is the greatest wonder."

With some circumstantial reasoning I have concluded that I do not comprehend the impact of death. May be thankfully so.