Tuesday, August 11, 2009


"In his book The Philosophy of Civilization, Albert Schweitzer, one of the main philosophers on the concept of civilization, outlined the idea that there are dual opinions within society; one regarding civilization as purely material and another regarding civilization as both ethical and material. He stated that the current world crisis was, then in 1923, due to a humanity having lost the ethical conception of civilization. In this same work, he defined civilization, saying:

'It is the sum total of all progress made by man in every sphere of action and from every point of view in so far as the progress helps towards the spiritual perfecting of individuals as the progress of all progress.'" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilization

I was looking for a reference to the idea that the truest merit of a civilization could be seen in how it treated it's sick and marginalized individuals. I thought of it today when I saw that the local government had again made major cuts in health care spending. The 'worried well' are those who have the greatest resources to seek the highest level of care in a purely capitalist economy. In contrast the chronically ill or severely debilitated can not themselves make the money to address their need and due to the very severity of their illness are dependent on the group or society in which they live. Jean Vannier http://www.larche.ca/in his work with L'Arche showed that the intrinsic worth of the disabled was how it brought forth our caring nature and it was that caring nature that made us human and more productive humans at that.

It's little known because they lack advocates but the mentally ill and physically disabled were also killed in Auschwitz:

"Auschwitz therefore testifies as well to the often forgotten Nazi aim to create a "New Order." This German plan called for the total annihilation of the Jews and the genocide of other groups, including selected population strata of the Slavs, undesirable Sinti and Roma, and the mentally ill and physically handicapped."http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0002_0_01609.html

The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia killed the sick in the hospitals.

" So, at short notice and under threat of death, the inhabitants of towns and cities were forced to leave them. The ill, disabled, old and very young were driven out as well, regardless of their physical condition: no-one was spared the exodus. People who refused to leave were killed; so were those who didn't leave fast enough, and those who wouldn't obey orders. All political and civil rights were abolished. Children were taken from their parents and placed in separate forced labour camps. Factories, schools and universities were shut down; so were hospitals. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, scientists and professional people in any field (including the army) were murdered, together with their extended families. Religion was banned, all leading Buddhist monks were killed and almost all temples destroyed. Music and radio sets were also banned. It was possible for people to be shot simply for knowing a foreign language, wearing glasses, laughing, or crying. One Khmer slogan ran 'To spare you is no profit, to destroy you is no loss.'
. http://www.ppu.org.uk/genocide/g_cambodia1.html

Already I see my marginalized patients hurting and weary with the increasing work and desperation. I can't help but think that Albert Schweitzer, whose example drew me to medicine, is right about the ethical aspect of civilization. That said, I remain hopeful that Canadians remain civilized and won't make the awful detours other once great civilizations made.

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