In the National World War II museum, it is easy and even triumphant and pride-generating to look back and see some of the scientific advances made during World War II. There’s no doubt that science is advancing. But I wonder if our ethics can keep pace.

I am fairly proud of Teflon. And synthetic cortisone is widely used and may have saved plenty of lives. It’s a steroid that knocks down the action of the immune system. When a medical substance becomes cheaper and easier to use and known to the public, then it runs a real danger of getting overused. Most concern about overuse is focused on illegal steroids taken by athletes. Nevertheless, everything that can be helpful and fast may make things worse. One example would be the over-prescribing of steroids to kids with allergies.

Penicillin had been invented before WWII, but its use did not become widespread until WWII. Of course, it took people awhile to find out about the ability of bacteria to develop resistances to antibiotics. This has led to newer and stronger antibiotics, which would not be the worst thing in the world. Unfortunately, the excessive use of antibiotics has led to untreatable infections, such as methicilline-resistant strep and an untreatable strain of tuberculosis.

Nevertheless, we had advances. I think several had something to do with German scientists escaping to our nation.

If someone asked, I would have been hard-pressed to identify scientific advances from our presence in wars such as the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, I recently found a bunch of press releases about advanced plastic surgery repair of veterans. I am sure the appearance of these press releases has more to do with the proximity of a national election than it does with anybody’s hunger for scientific advancements.

My favorite is the one about lab grown genitals and spray on skin. These are admittedly great advances. Skin grafts can be damn hard to get to “take,” so the idea is seductive beyond words. I have heard of new ears. They seem to be talking external ears — more cosmetic than functional — but this is a really good thing. Bad limbs are getting fixed or replaced, which is good news. The most mind boggling project described is men who have lost their penises and are growing new ones. This hypothesis, including functionality, has been tested on rabbits.

All research, human or animal, has to go through some kind of committee to determine scientific merit as well as how humane it is. It is hard to imagine anyone permitting research that involved castrating rabbits. I am not one of your anti-vivisection folks, but all I can imagine here is Bugs Bunny grabbing his crotch and giving new meaning to the query of “What’s up, Doc?” I’m happy to say I can get past that one, as this is obviously a great advance in medicine for humans.

Has nobody noticed that these advances come at a level and frequency of war casualty that is pretty damned scary? We are sending people — young and healthy people — to a place from which they run a non-negligible risk of losing body parts. Bad idea. Psychologically, this could give us new advances in kinds of suffering, such as a subset of post-traumatic stress disorder. Even though new plastic surgery methods have been described as still experimental, I expect they will be abused any minute. It’s unlikely to hit the press, but I believe that any minute the scion of one of the moneyed families currently ruling this nation will look down between his legs, decide he needs more than what his creator gave him, and benefit from this extraordinary bit of medicine for the most mundane and egotistical of reasons. Until now, those who consider their “male endowment” too small have been limited to displacing such urges by buying themselves a monster truck that can crush smaller ones, or similar acts of sublimation. Sure, we can advance science. But advancing ethics? That may be much harder work.

Author's Bio: 

I'm The Renegade Doctor because I broke away from the conventional wisdom that keeps doctors overworked, underpaid, and chronically miserable.

Estelle Toby Goldstein, M.D. is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and is licensed to practice in the state of California. She holds a valid license from the DEA to write prescriptions, but is an expert in nutritional therapies involving vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other cutting-edge treatments. Her philosophy includes working with other professionals to get the best treatment for her patient. Medical specialists in other fields, psychotherapists and alternative practitioners are among her allies in her pursuit of optimum treatment for her patients.