Could Curing All Major Illnesses Be Detrimental?
Is natural selection saving our population from further peril?
Our world is plagued with illnesses and conditions that cruelly take lives daily. If one could imagine a world without pain and suffering, they might imagine a world without cancer for example. However, to what extent would our world become a better place if it was free of illness and disease?
According to the World Health Organisation, the top 6 causes of death in 2016 were: Ischaemic heart disease, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory diseases, Alzheimer’s and other dementias and lung cancer. If these conditions were eradicated, roughly 25 million lives would have been saved that year.
In the UK alone in 2017 166,600 people died of cancer. This is a huge number and accounted for 28% of all UK deaths that year. If we had a cure for cancer, that would be 166,600 fewer people who had to suffer and have their lives sadly taken, in only one country and in a singular year.
Having a cure for this merciless killer would an astronomical breakthrough in medicine and would be remembered as one of the world’s greatest achievements.
However, what exactly would a world look like free of these major causes of death?
If we cured major causes of death such as cancer, heart disease, Alzeimer’s, and strokes we would be creating another large problem: overpopulation.
A world free of major illness and disease would be a world in which many would live to old age. If we eradicated major illness, we would be hindering natural selection, which could have a detrimental effect on our living conditions.
This could then increase the effect of other world issues such as starvation, poverty and global warming.
Without natural selection, difficult decisions would have to be made by world leaders and governments. Who gets to be fed and who doesn’t? Is it ethical to limit the population by force for the greater good?
To curb overpopulation, several countries such as Iran, Singapore and Vietnam, implemented the two-child policy in the 1970s, in an effort to control their population density.
China implemented an even stricter regime in 1979, which restricted families to only one child. This was then relaxed by allowing rural families to have a second child if their first was a girl. This was changed due to problems caused by a shortage of males to be able to work and provide vital services.
Whilst this did curb their overpopulation crisis, it then created other complications, such as a rise in preference for male babies, which resulted in a large number of abortions for female fetuses. Many had to face extreme measures under this strict policy, such as forced sterilisation and forced abortions, which wasn’t always safe.
If we eradicate forms of natural selection, we then have to be prepared to find solutions to the consequences of this. The ethical considerations of manually curbing overpopulation are very wide and present the question of whether it is morally right to choose who deserves to live and who deserves to die, in an effort to stop the demise of many.
It comes to the moral dilemma of whether it is kinder to diminish the suffering of those who have these major illnesses at the risk of causing a different kind of suffering. By diminishing the suffering of many, are we only perpetuating further suffering for the world?
If we advance to the point where medical progression allows us to cure or create vaccines for the top causes of death, yet we realise that curing all major illnesses poses ulterior threats to our world, we then face another moral dilemma. How do we choose which illnesses to cure and which ones we allow to continue in order to control our population density?
Dr Richard Smith, the former editor of the British Medical Journal, controversially said that we should not cure cancer, as it was an illness that allowed people a chance to say goodbye to loved ones and gives a person a chance to come to terms with death. For this reason, he believed that it should be favoured over a sudden death.
Whilst his opinion comes across as rather callous and dismissive of the suffering of many, it does present something to think about. If we eradicated cancer in its entirety, would the consequences be just as harmful?
Whilst medical progression and the ability to stop the suffering of so many who face these awful illnesses would be a miraculous achievement, there is the underlying thought that suffering in itself will never be eradicated.
How far can we go to rid the world of disease before we create even more detrimental effects on our world, our people and the way we live? We then must question which is more ethical: allowing overpopulation, or allowing disease?
So the question that we should be considering, is that to strive towards a world with less suffering, what level of balance should we maintain to control further detriemntal consequences. If we cure all major illnesses, will our world adapt, or will we need to take matters into our own hands to control the way we are living?
As a world, we should definitely endeavour to advance medically towards curing many illnesses, but we need to monitor the consequences that this could cause. We will never live in an ideal world free of suffering, but measures can certainly be taken to step towards this, provided that we do not neglect other areas of sufferance in the effort to eradicate illness.