The cursed cure for Malaria: kept alive to live more miserably, William Vogt

The following is a vignette included by William Vogt in his 1948 The Road to Survival.  The eugenic implications of a cure for malaria was often considered by eugenicists, many of whom became fixated on the ‘over-population’ crisis.  Vogt was an early instigator of this ‘crisis.’  He strongly recommends the writings of eugenicist Guy Irving Burch, in particular Human Breeding and Survival, for further reading.

Vignette:

Joe Spencer

Joe Spencer’s hand trembled as he moved the slide back and forth under the microscope’s objective.  Over and over again he checked the blood smear.  There was no trace of plasmodium.

He sat back in his chair and let his eyes water about the laboratory.  The monkeys and the birds played in their cages, quite unconcerned at having a date with history.  All through the war Joe had worked, as had hundreds of other researchers, to find a certain and harmless protection against malaria for United Nations troops.  Now with the war, technically, at least, over, he apparently had it.

He had had 100 per cent success in protecting the experimental animals with a few grains of white powder.  Over and over again he had run tests on them, and all had been negative.  Then, after dosing himself with the compound, he had deliberately inoculated himself.  It was not at all certain that this chemical, whose molecules he had been shuffling for nearly two years, would work the same way on him as it had on canaries.  He had waited two weeks for a positive reaction–and there had been none.  He had tried again, with negative results.  Three more checks indicated that he was completely immune.  Then Marion, his wife, insisted that he try it on her before saying anything to anyone else about it.  A slide smeared with his wife’s blood lay in front of him.  If this was negative, he would be 99 per cent certain.  He slipped the slide onto the stage of the microscope and with practiced fingers ran over it rapidly.  Not a thing to be seen.  Then he settled down and checked it with infinite care, by minute fractions of a millimeter.  Still nothing!

He sat back in his chair, and realized that he had broken into a heavy sweat.  Unless he was most improbably wrong, he had a sure and harmless preventive for one of the worst man killers of all time.  Its manufacture would cost less than aspirin, and millions of suffering men and women would find immediate surcease from racking pains.  What would this mean to the hordes of India and China?  What would it mean to the world?

Joe knew that in the test tubes of his laboratory there was confined a power that was perhaps as dangerous as that of the atomic bomb.  He had walked the cobblestone streets of Rumanian towns, of muddy byways in Italy, and seen hundreds of coffins carried on the shoulders of men, coffins that had been filled by the bites of mosquitoes.  From afar off he had seen the burning ghats of India, had watched them across stinking pools of standing water from which the winged death had silently flitted away.  His fingers had searched for the swollen spleens of children in Guayaquil and Manaos, and all over norther South America.  He had watched the dragging gait of men and women who spent their nights burning with the fire they called “paludismo.”

Then he had spent two weeks in Puerto Rico, where the miracles of American medicine had been worked, with the chief result that more people were kept alive to live more miserably.  He knew India had grown by some fifty millions in ten years, and even before the first of those fifty millions was born there was not enough food to go around.  Was there any kindness in keeping people from dying of malaria so that they could die more slowly of starvation?  Could there be any end of wars, and rumors of wars, while such people as the prosperous Americans had far more than they needed and the millions of India and China and Java and Western Europe–and perhaps Russia–did not have enough?  Few men of his day, Joe knew, had had the power to shake so profoundly the future of the world.

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