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Medicine Vs. Evolution


Medicine Vs. EvolutionThe conflict of interest between individual human instincts and the ways of life at large (mechanics of evolution) has been brewing an interesting battle that calls for a truce with out sacrificing the interests of either of them.

Evolution per se is a phenomenon we observe all around the living world caused by germ cells dividing imperfectly leading to random changes in the gene pool of the progeny. In non-scientific terms, humans and most other life forms do not produce their exact copies as children. Instead children invariably inherit most of the characters from their parents but also acquire new characters that are hitherto unseen in their parents or ancestors. These new characteristics sometimes offer survival advantage but most of the times are either non-contributory or harmful.

The struggle for survival and limits on available resources ensure that only the best of the progeny can survive and breed successfully. Those carrying harmful mutations are eliminated in successive generations there by pruning the population and gene pool.

Now coming to present day humans, us, its not uncommon to see  fellow men and women having sub normal characters like impaired vision (Myopia, Hypermetropia, astigmatism, etc.), impaired metabolism (Diabetes, maltose intolerance, etc.), impaired hormonal balance (Hyperthyroidism, Hypothyroidism, Addison’s Disease, etc.) and many many others. I myself have many undesirable characteristics. These characteristics are the result of random mutations that proved to be harmful. They were given a helping hand by Medicine and were not eliminated by natural selection.

Effectively modern day industrialized medical science is helping these individuals survive and breed in spite of their defective genes and characteristics. As a doctor I call this the triumph of mankind over forces of nature. Nevertheless there are repercussions. Because mutations are random, unless harmful mutations are eliminated by natural selection they tend to accumulate and spread in the population. Consequently it is not uncommon to see diabetics with myopia and so on either.

Now the crux of the problem is that healthcare burden over an individual or society will gradually increase in successive generations because of accumulation of defective genes. The more the medical care available for a society the more will it need in future because we are interfering with natural selection. There is also a tendency for the dependency to grow exponentially.

Unless we find a solution for this problem, health care costs as witnessed today are bound to grow to unsustainable levels forcing us to fall back to natural selection for pruning our gene pool and the effects can be devastating. Moreover the dependence on industrialized medicine can lead to havoc in the event of energy crisis.  Running out of cheap mineral energy like petroleum and coal is one such event in the foreseeable future.

We should either artificially prune harmful mutations from our population or fall back to natural selection early to avoid a global catastrophe. This idea is very futuristic and controversial to begin with. I believe humanity at large should start discussing this problem more often and find an amicable solution with out sacrificing ethics and morality.

I am confident that we humans can resolve this problem like many others before this with enthusiasm, ingenuity and collaboration.