Letter: Death endures

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Robert Fisk asks ("A case of incurable optimism", 30 September) that governments should spend on medical research the sort of money that they devote to weaponry, in the hope that we would then find a cure for Parkinson's and other diseases, thus lengthening life and reducing suffering. Judging from medicine's track record, this would not happen.

Medical research does not get anything like as much funding as military hardware, but it still does get more money than ever before. The result has been great progress in curing, or at least alleviating, many illnesses. But strangely, it has not lengthened human life, nor has it reduced the pain, discomfort and indignity of most people's deaths.

Where people used to die of pneumonia, tuberculosis or scarlet fever, now they survive until cancer, stroke, Alzheimer's, or Parkinson's get them. If cures for these were to be found, people would then survive only to be felled by other diseases just as unpleasant. So the possibility raised by Mr Fisk that God might be a sadist would still be a poser for theologians. Besides which, scientists cannot produce miraculous breakthroughs to order, no matter how much money they are given.

The really big advances in the war against disease have already been made through better sanitation, better diet, lower tobacco and alcohol intake, and better education. But a "ripe old age" still means somewhere between 80 and 100 years, just as it did in the Middle Ages. There will never be an ultimate cure for death, and Mr Fisk's optimism is not so much incurable as misplaced.


Brookmans Park,