Intended for healthcare professionals


Can medicine prevent war?

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 19 December 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1669

Imaginative thinking shows that it might

  1. Yusuf Salim, Professor of medicine.,
  2. Anand Sonia, Clinician scientist,
  3. MacQueen Graeme, Associate professor, religious studies
  1. Preventive Cardiology and Therapeutics Research Program, Division of Cardiology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8L 2X2
  2. Centre for Peace Studies, McMaster University

    War is one of the world's most serious threats to health. The recent global burden of disease report has indicated that war will be one of the top 10 causes of disability adjusted life years lost by the year 2020.1 For every combatant killed in war, one non-combatant is also killed directly, 14-15 civilians lose their lives from loss of shelter, food, and water or epidemics—and several times these numbers are physically or psychologically wounded. What can healthcare workers do about this threat?

    In a provocative article Dudley Herschbach, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, reflects on what it might be like if human beings could speak to dolphins.2 He imagines a fruitful interaction between humans and dolphins that would derive its force from the fact that the two species come from different habitats, face different problems, and have evolved different ways of communicating among themselves. He fantasises that a genuinely creative relationship would lead to the solution of many problems humans had thought intractable. He applies the parable to our human situation: “Each academic species has evolved its own language, so interdisciplinary …

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