Monday, October 15, 2012

Unintended (but Favorable) Consequences

Unintended consequences seem to surround every institution that society has ever created. Some of these consequences are favorable, while others are negative. It is often the case that the negative consequences of societies well minded decisions find themselves in the limelight. Well, Dr. Harvey Cushing is a prime example of someone whose research had far more important results than the unintended consequences.

Harvey Williams Cushing (1869-1939), the father of modern neurosurgery, was an American neurosurgeon and a pioneer of brain surgery techniques. It is to him that credit for the discovery Cushing’s syndrome is attributed. In the early 1900’s, Cushing developed many basic methods of operating on the human brain. This established him as a forerunner in the field, and it was under his influence that neurosurgery became a new an autonomous procedure.

One of Cushing’s greatest achievements as a surgeon was his advances in the area of intracranial tumors. Before his time, a tumor on one’s brain almost certainly led to a risky operation ending in death. However, Cushing was able to greatly increase the survival rate of patients that had undergone dangerous tumor operations. It can be noted though, that research carries with it failure. Behind any success there are innumerable failures. In Cushing’s case, his failures almost certainly lead to the deaths of his patients. In fact, several have been noted.

I would posit then that Cushing’s research, although well intentioned created negative unintended consequences. But, I’m fairly certain that even the staunchest supporters of life (entailing almost all of us) would agree that Cushing’s research was pivotal to the medical field, and yielded far greater benefits than costs.  All of this to say, while many decisions are foolish and under thought, unintended consequences are a necessary part of societal advance. 

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