Worse Than the Disease
Placing the thick printout of PowerPoint slides on the desk in front of her, the Surgeon General looked up at the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He maintained eye contact for a moment, then flinched from her stare.
“Do you enjoy public fights?” she asked quietly.
He was a soft, pudgy man – not brilliant at science, she knew, but a consummate bureaucrat.
“I can see that there will be – controversy, but . . . with your backing. . . .”
“My backing, Jason? How long after the you-know-what hits the you-know-where will it be before the leaks begin? Rushed to publication . . . special interests . . . political pressure . . . opinions of anonymous senior researchers disregarded. Oh, don’t look blank. I know what will happen the instant that you decide that standing by your findings is too risky. Then they become Madison Tessler’s findings, and Dr. Tessler is food for the sharks.”
His face reddened, but not as much as an innocent man’s would. “That isn’t fair, Maddy. I took the heat on embryonic stem cells.”
“The heat? Yeah, the heat from the media applauding you for standing up to bigots who think that there’s it’s a sin to make a human organism, experiment on it and toss it into the trash. What would you have done if the pro-lifers controlled the networks? No, you don’t have to answer.”
She leaned back, gazing at the portrait of Jonas Salk on the far side of the office. “Still, this is a lot bigger than my career – or even yours.”
“The research is very promising.”
“Suppression of 99 percent of cancer growth, inhibition of the aging process, regrowth of neurons. The Rasmussen team has found reversal of degeneration in ova.” She was 42 and childless. Her choice, but these days she often wished that the choice didn’t have to be final.
“The problem is delivery.”
She had bent the corner of that page. Now she opened to it.
NECESSITY FOR STEADY DIFFUSION
Route to bloodstream required (oral ingestion ineffective)
20-50 doses per day (avg. 20 minute intervals during wakefulness)
Value of aeration
Alternative delivery mechanism (next slide)
“The volunteers had to inject every 20 minutes?”
“Depending on age and body mass. And preparing the injection is a bother, too. The serum has to be decanted into a separate vial, swirled in the air, then redecanted and injected. We can’t expect ordinary people to keep up that regimen day after day.”
“Not in return for the prospect of living healthily for hundreds of years?”
“Think about it, Maddy. They won’t do easier things than that for the sake of life and health. We had a 50 percent dropout rate among the experimental subjects, and they only had to keep it up for six months, not a lifetime.”
She couldn’t impel herself to flip to the next page and reread it. Maybe it had been her imagination. Maybe if she didn’t look at the results, they would change.
“And the alternative method?”
“Easy to apply. The subjects enjoyed it, and after a while they couldn’t easily stop even if they had wanted to. We had to maintain most of them on placebos after the study was complete.”
Her head was starting to pound. She had to decide. Was semi-eternal life worth this? She shifted her stare back to the director.
“So, in your opinion, the only safe and effective delivery method. . . .” At the crucial moment, the words would not come. For the first time, to her surprise, he looked back at her.
For a minute there was silence, followed by his weak, plaintive completion of her thought, “. . . is inhalation in conjunction with tobacco smoke.”