Msgr. Owen F. Campion" />

Modern medicine and the preciousness of life

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Several years ago, an elderly physician recalled for me his experiences in the military during the Second World War. He graduated from medical school in the late 1930s and was about to begin his practice when Pearl Harbor hit. He immediately went into the Army, as a medic.

They sent him to the South Pacific. On the then-British island of Papua New Guinea, he served in a military hospital. He saw the worst of wounds. Always, the greatest enemy was infection. Doctors could stop hemorrhage. They could treat fractures. They could perform surgeries, but all was to no avail if infection came, and, as often as not, infection came.

Then, this doctor said, penicillin came! It was a miracle. The British discovered it, saw what it might accomplish, raced to test it, accepted it, produced massive quantities of it, and, as quickly as humanly possible, got it to military hospitals, such as the facility on Papua New Guinea.

Penicillin was not utterly out of the blue, but it was unique nevertheless. Sulfa drugs had been around for a few years, but the sulfas could not match the efficiency of penicillin in handling infection. This doctor said that he and his associates could not get enough penicillin, especially after they saw its effects.

The polio vaccine came a decade following the war, and people received it eagerly, as they had received penicillin without concern.

An especially sad footnote in the histories of the COVID-19 pandemic will be that millions of people put themselves at risk, put others at risk, or even died, because they had misgivings about the vaccine.

Former President Donald Trump publicly has said that the development of the coronavirus vaccine was one of the great successes of his presidency. President Joe Biden has pleaded with people to be vaccinated. Biden hardly is refuting Trump’s estimate of the vaccine.

News reports tell of more and more new admissions to hospitals, and more deaths, due to COVID. Has anyone heard a report of a death, or even a significant problem, caused by vaccination in this regard?

This one-time Army doctor came home to practice anesthesiology, a specialty in medicine much attuned to the properties, workings and risks of drugs. He spoke of how medicines come and go, at times rather quickly, as needs present themselves. He talked about high standards and rigorous attention to standards on the part of pharmaceutical manufacturers, about what a huge industry that pharmaceuticals had become, and about safeguards. Literally hundreds of thousands of people are involved.

To assume that even a significant number of them, let alone all of them, would not care and would conspire and relax their commitment to proven standards to make a buck, put their firm’s name in the headlines or to make a political point tests the imagination.

Some say that they have not seen cases of COVID. Cases are there, by the hundreds of thousands. Health care providers talk about hospitals with no more empty beds and long hours on the job. Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, a large Catholic hospital, reported on national TV that, on one day, it worried about taking new patients regardless of the complaint. The hospital had so many COVID cases.

A man in Arkansas, husband of a pregnant wife and father of four other children, said that he and his family refused to be vaccinated. They did not trust the vaccine. They all took sick. His wife lost the baby. Miraculously, they survived, but it was devastating. If only they had been vaccinated, he said.

Wonder how many medics in the Second World War rejected penicillin for the wounded because it was very new? Apparently not many. Too many wounded came home.

Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.

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