Thursday, February 14, 2008

Joseph Lister and Freedom of Choice

One of my favorite stories as a child was that of Joseph Lister. He was a surgeon in the middle of the 19th century. Although well versed in surgical techniques, he was troubled with the same high post operative fatality rates as other surgeons. He eventually decided that harmful creatures invisible to the naked eye were killing patients. He instituted the use of a spray containing carbolic acid.. He said it would kill the invisible creatures and save his patients. He made all doctors and nurses put on clothing that had been treated with his mystery formula. All surfaces, all instruments were sterilised.
This was a notable departure from prevailing practice in nineteenth century operating rooms. Doctors worked in their street clothes and didn't even wash their hands before rushing into work.
Lister was considered an eccentric. Because he was a recognised surgeon, his strange practices were tolerated. Soon, a vast disparity became apparent between his low post operative mortality rate and the high percentage of fatalities that persisted among his colleagues. Once the veracity of his beliefs was verified, his practices became standard operating procedure.
In the times before the coming of the Moshiach (the Messiah), Jewish teachings are considered a harmless eccentricity, and tolerated by those who don't share such beliefs. When the teachings of Moshiach are revealed, todays eccentricities will be considered self evident truths, like the findings of Robert Lister in his day. Unlike theocracies today that compel religious allegiance, people will be impelled to behave in the proper manner. The exile has lasted for so long that it is hard to imagine such a state of awareness, but the example of Robert Lister and the freedom to search that he enjoyed in his generation gives me an idea of what is possible in our generation.
Copyright 2008 by Magdeburger Joe

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