Mr Warren advises

This morning’s mail contains a shocking suggestion. A correspondent in remote Michigan asks, “Would not a ’13th century man’ have chosen to die rather than have heart surgery and all the care that followed?”

I was already preparing my answer when I realized it must be posted too late. I am often inconvenienced, or embarrassed, by my birth in the 20th century. But at least, it was before open-heart surgery, which I had the leisure to grow into, without a terrible rush. Many other medical adventures I omitted, together with the moral quandaries they would have set me in, to say nothing of the time I could have spent in hospitals.

As the driver of a three-wheeler in Delhi once explained, death is the solution to many, apparently intractable, problems. We were travelling around a traffic circus between two large transit buses at the time. Our three-wheeler was, by comparison, tiny and invisible. The buses were squeezing together.

My driver had just finished commenting on traffic conditions. “A path will emerge!” he said, brightly. Asked to review this opinion in light of the two buses, he said, “Death can be a path.”

True philosophers can perhaps only be found in Michigan and Delhi; plus Socrates in Athens.

My present correspondent added, I should mention, that he was asking this morning’s (first) question on behalf of himself. In the last decade or so, he has “gone to the ER with heart problems multiple times,” yet never had surgery because his cardiologist said he would probably die on the table.

Even so, he is sometimes tempted to throw all his medications in the garbage and chance it.

As I lack the qualifications to practise as a physician, I am unable to advise my elderly correspondent if this would be wise. Nevertheless, I have a settled prejudice against “Big Pharma,” which would incline me to the lower doses.

In my own case, I was rushed into the operating theatre so quickly, and with so little philosophical discussion, that it would have been impossible to consider all the implications. In this, and most other cases, “modern medicine” has decided on the course of action.

One watches the surgical team assembling. They are, like so many modern things, urgently efficient, but unimaginative. Verily, they would be punished if they used their imagination.

That is why people live so long today, although my information is that they lived almost as long, and stayed healthier, in the High Middle Ages. But this is to reduce the historical experience to arbitrary medical criteria (confirmed in the parish records). Surely there are better ways to judge human life.