6 Comments »Posted on Wednesday 24 March 2010 at 11:53 pm by Colin Stuart
In Getting It Wrong, Health & Medicine, Inventions & Technology, Musings

Anyone who knows me will attest to my often unwavering love of science. I pay my rent talking about science; not a day goes by when I’m not entrenched in the latest scientific discoveries. But it has to be said, sometimes science is a twat.

Science is often applauded as a discipline of progress, the great giver of development and improvement to life. And yet science has deprived a forgotten generation, a generation who suffer the indignity of progress and yet reap very few of the benefits.

My great aunt, simply known by everyone as Auntie, is very nearly 89 years old. Born in 1921 she is basically all my grandparents rolled into one. All my natural grandparents were gone by the time I was seven and so she had to bear the brunt of surrogate grandparenthood. And I wasn’t the easiest of surrogate grandchildren. Being a science geek, and being perpetually unpopular, meant that I won several academic awards during my high school years. Whilst these awards were mostly for science, I did win the Year 8 award for French.

However, what has to be said is that these awards ceremonies were as about as enlightening as a Gordon Brown YouTube video. And yet she sat diligently through several mind-numbingly tedious and over-bureaucratic awards ceremonies.

Despite her willingness to suffer such torture, science, the subject that enforced her to endure such an ordeal, hasn’t been kind to her. Scientific progress has meant that she now lives in a world where it is commonplace for people to reach her age. And yet the human body is simply not designed to last that long.

Our younger generation laud science as the bringer of technology. Science gave us the internet, the iPhone and HD TV. Yet she was born between world wars, in a time when such ideas were fanciful. What has science done for her? It has extended her life so that she now has to deal with dementia, her body wearing out under the strain of scientific progress. Last week she sneezed and fractured a vertebra. A woman who served in WW2 as part of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) now needs four care visitors a day just to help her stay in her home.

If, as she will soon surely need, she has to move into a care home, it will cost around £1000 per week. The travesty is that if she hadn’t worked hard all her life and had no savings then care would be provided. But my point isn’t a political one.

Is the subject that I love causing such problems? On our exponential march into the future are we leaving behind those that don’t reap the benefits? Those of a religious persuasion are sometimes shaken in their convictions by a lack of faith. Just sometimes I wonder whether a world without science would be kinder….

  1. 6 Comments

  2. The science that leaves a person alive and suffering also can leave a person alive and not suffering. Though I know that is no consolation.

    By Anne on Thursday 25 March, 2010 at 12:17 am

  3. I’ve heard others talk about their amazingly vigorous and mentally acute grandparents of 80+ years but it hasn’t been part of my experience. Hearing someone you love ask, ‘why am I still here?’ for the last decade of their life is horrible. If you have the temerity to say, long before your ‘due date’ that you don’t really aspire to live to age 90, you’re accused of having a death wish (well, yes, ultimately, I guess I do, and, selfishly, I prefer decrepitude to happen after death).

    I think it’s just about as absurd to suggest a desire for corporeal immortality is a reasonable wish as to suggest children want consciously to be born. If we can’t make a little more progress linking life firmly to quality of life, with a great deal more respect for the individual’s wishes, I’m afraid we may be dooming ourselves as a species. Not a cheery note on which to end this comment, I realize.

    I highly recommend Julian Barnes’ Nothing to be Frightened Of on the subject of life, death, and the whole damned thing.

    By Ruth Seeley on Thursday 25 March, 2010 at 1:26 am

  4. Science is so much more complex. Science is made by people and therefore, will carry contradictions. Science makes us live longer, but science also tells us that we are overpopulating this planet. It’s not the fault of science, but of people who make decisions. It is people who decide where to invest in science and the question is whether anyone has a picture big enough to know what really is the right thing to do with science.

    I wish your grand mother a wonderful time left, she’s lucky you care so much :)

    By Carolina on Thursday 25 March, 2010 at 10:08 am

  5. The countries in which scientific progress is least evident are certainly not the kindest. Kindness is a human luxury made possible to a large extent by scientific technology.

    By Patrick White on Thursday 25 March, 2010 at 6:49 pm

  6. In 1900, 14 per cent of children died before their first birthday, compared with 0.6 per cent today. At least your grandmother had a life, even if she did have to sit through your award ceremonies.

    The political point is a more pertinent one. It’s legislation, not science, that’s prolonging your Auntie’s suffering.

    By Sam Wong on Thursday 25 March, 2010 at 10:02 pm

  7. I feel how u feel, have been in a similar situation with my grandma last year. Yet, I know ur love for science will prevail.

    After all, science has got us this far and will surely carry us further.

    By Akshat Rathi on Sunday 23 May, 2010 at 11:58 pm

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