Without Understanding

by Lewayne L. White


Nearly all legislation involves a weighing of public needs as against private desires; and likewise a weighing of relative social values.
— U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

“I’m sorry, Senator,” said the doctor. “But all the tests confirm my suspicions.”

“AC/DC?” replied James Carlton Banks III.

The holographic image of Doctor Alice Greenleaf nodded.

“You can’t come in here and tell me to my face?” Senator Banks said, scowling.

The hologram of Doctor Greenleaf shook her head. “Your particular case of Accelerated Chimerical Degeneration of Cells is well advanced, Senator. That’s why I’ve secured you in that ‘clean room.’ You can’t risk coming in contact with anything that might trigger a mutation.”

“Or?”

“Senator,” replied Greenleaf with a sigh. “Surely you’ve seen the reports that my colleagues with the CDC, WHO, and countless other groups have provided to your committee.”

Banks shifted slightly. “I sort of remember some icky pictures, and something about this region in sub-Saharan Africa...”

Greenleaf sighed again. “Senator Banks. Your body’s cellular material is mutating at a rapid rate. Changes that might have taken centuries, perhaps millennia, can now happen within hours if your DNA encounters stimuli that triggers that mutation.”

“Mutation? Is this some of that evolution junk?”

Greenleaf sighed yet again. “Senator, even if I were completely covered from head to toe in a ‘clean suit’, there is a risk that some microbe might travel into that room with me. Perhaps, I’ll have a cat hair on my clothing. If the cat DNA comes in contact with yours, you may find yourself with whiskers, night vision, and an urge to groom yourself with your tongue.”

Banks waggled his eyebrows. “Maybe you could come in here and groom me with your tongue, Doctor.”

Greenleaf stopped herself from sighing again. “Senator, if you’d reviewed our reports-”

“Look, Doc,” Banks said. “I’m a busy man. Break it down for me. You got a cure?”

“Again, our briefing to your committee-”

“Look, I got it. Read more papers. Lesson learned. Can you fix me or what?”

“We’ve been experimenting with something we’ve called ESCAPE that might help you.”

“Escape? Isn’t that some car?” Banks replied. “Can you use that name? Isn’t it trademarked? Your marketing department better come up with something better or the pharmaceutical companies won’t touch it.”

“Embryonic Stem Cell Adjustment Procedure-Elective, Senator.”

“Whoa, stem cells,” Banks said, raising his hand. “Can’t be messing with those. That’s a potential human life there. I represent constituents who don’t go in for that Frankenstein stuff.”

A slight smile touched Greenleaf’s face. “I’m sure you’re as familiar with the use of stem cells for medical purposes as your are with all the subjects on which you’ve voted.”

“Absolutely,” Banks replied. Then he furrowed his brow. “Did you just say what I think you said?”

“I don’t think so,” replied Greenleaf. “But, I’d forgotten your position on stem cell research.”

Banks watched Greenleaf’s hologram tap the keys of a computer keyboard he couldn’t see.

“Oh,” Doctor Greenleaf replied. “I guess there’s no point in explaining the process any further.”

“What?” barked Banks. “What about my condition?”

The Greenleaf hologram looked up from an invisible monitor. “Do you recall voting on the Federal Reporting Enabling Examination and Denial Of Medical care act, Senator?”

Banks smiled. “Sure, FREEDOM,” he replied. “That was.. you know, medical stuff. Protecting insurance companies from junk lawsuits or something. Important for the economy. I represent a lot of constituents in the insurance field.”

“Specifically,” Greenleaf continued. “do you recall the PLANS amendment to FREEDOM.”

“Political stuff. National security. Very important amendment. My advis... I considered it my duty to protect this great country from threats foreign and domestic.”

“Yes, well, that’s where there’s the problem, Senator. The Political and Legal Action Against National Security amendment.”

Blanks leapt to his feet, face reddening. “What? Those laws are there for your protection. Don’t tell me you’re one of those squishy liberal bleeding hearts that don’t care about our country’s freedoms? Without the law, where would we be?”

“Quite the contrary, Senator Banks. I intend to follow the letter of the law.”

Banks looked at the hologram, slightly confused. “So what’s the problem? Get me cured, and-”

Greenleaf raised a semi-transparent hand. “If I may.”

Activating a small touch screen that appeared before the senator’s eyes, Greenleaf said, “Try and keep up with me, Senator Banks.”

Pointing to a series of glowing diagrams, Greenleaf said, “AC/DC which both stimulates and degenerates cellular activity will cause rapid changes in your body’s cellular structure. Initially, some of the effects might seem appealing, with the potential for superhuman abilities. But, eventually, your body will burn out, or the mutations will interfere with normal function, and the cells will begin to break down.”

“That’s the part where I die, right?”

Greenleaf nodded. “ESCAPE, currently the only treatment that might prevent your eventual mutation into disassociated degenerated cellular sludge relies on embryonic stem cells to-”

“See, there’s that Frankenst-”

“Senator, please,” Greenleaf interrupted. “The flexible nature of em-stem cells enables them to become whatever we need them to be. Combined with nano-tech controls, we can use them to replace whatever cellular matter in your body begins to degenerate. If your liver, for example, begins changing into a fish, nano-docs will activate nearby em-stems to regenerate the liver.”

Banks looked confused, but nodded. “So, whatever starts to fall apart...”

“Could be fixed as soon as the nano-docs detect any change.”

“So, I’d be cured?”

The Greenleaf hologram shook her head. “No, merely stabilized. You would always be a carrier, but you wouldn’t die from AC/DC. You could live a healthy, likely very lengthy, life.”

Banks nodded, thinking.

“However,” Greenleaf added. “because of recent changes in health care and insurance regulations, ESCAPE isn’t covered by insurance.”

“No problem,” Banks said, “I can pay for it.”

“No doubt,” replied Greenleaf. “However, there is one other issue.”

“What?”

“Remember when I mentioned FREEDOM and PLANS?”

Banks nodded.

“Well, one of the provisions of FREEDOM, enabled me to electronically search every scrap of information available about you, Senator Banks.”

“I’ve got nothing to worry about. I have nothing to hide,” the senator said, puffing out his chest.

“That’s true, Senator,” Greenleaf replied. “More accurately, it’s not possible to hide anything.”

“And?”

“Well, do you recall speaking before the National Organization Opposing Nanotechnology?”

“NOON? Great group of people,” Banks said with a politician’s smile. “Even fed me a decent meal.”

“And the Organization Countering Technological Oppression of People United against Stem Cell Research, Evolution, and Welfare?”

“OCTOPUS CREW? Nice people. Very spiritual.”

“I’m sure,” replied Doctor Greenleaf. “Do you recall signing a petition they presented to you?”

Banks looked blank. “Did I?”

“Indeed, you did,” Greenleaf said. “It was, and I quote, ‘A call for the end, once and for all, of any and all research and medical procedures involving the use of embryonic stem cells or other methods that destroy potential human life’ end quote.”

“Well,” Banks said, “I do have a lot of constituents who feel very strongly that all life is important.”

“Even yours?”

Banks blinked. “I’m sure. Why?”

Greenleaf shrugged. “It’s just that one of the riders added to PLANS included an exclusion of medical treatment for those opposed to the medical procedure on religious or moral grounds.”

“Well, religious freedom is important to the security of our nation,” said the senator. “It’s one of our most important freedoms. No one should be forced to undergo a procedure they find ethically...” Banks paused. “Wait. Are you saying...”

“I’m saying,” Doctor Greenleaf replied, “that your signature on the OCTOPUS CREW petition qualifies as a ‘religious or moral’ opposition. That in turn, means that under the convoluted provisions of PLANS-”

“Wait,” Banks interrupted. “that doesn’t include me. I’m a senator. Besides what bonehead would sign a law that prevents him from getting-”

A hologram document appeared beside the hologram doctor. “I believe that’s your signature, Senator.”

Banks swallowed.

“And this,” Greenleaf added, pointing to another hologram hovering beside her image. “looks like footage of you taking credit for protecting your constituents’ freedom by signing this bill into law.”

“I’m afraid, Senator,” Greenleaf said. “That I am prohibited by said law from treating you with ESCAPE, because it involves both embryonic stem cells and nanotechnology. Since you have clearly stated your opposition to those procedures, I would be risking loss of my license and practice, as well as federal jail time. The law is very specific.”

Banks sputtered, “But, that’s not what... I didn’t read that part... I didn’t know...” Banks reddened, then yelled, “Can’t I sign a waiver?”

The Greenleaf hologram shrugged. “There isn’t any provision in PLANS for a waiver, Senator. One of the bill’s co-sponsors specifically opposed adding such a provision, because he didn’t want...”

Greenleaf raised a finger, and said, “Just a moment. Let me find it...”

She typed at her keyboard, then read aloud, “The potential for extreme legal measures to force or coerce a patient to undergo a procedure they find unethical, immoral-”

“But, I want to do it! Can’t we sort of bend the-”

“I’m sorry, Senator,” Greenleaf replied, “but ‘Without the law, where would we be?’”


Copyright © 2006 by Lewayne L. White

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