Medical Innovations and
The Call of the Sirens
We have met the enemy and he is us. —Pogo
You will come to the Sirens, who bewitch all men who come near…."Come
hither, Odysseus …stop your ship so you can hear our voices. No one has ever
sailed his black ship past here without listening to the honeyed sound from our
lips." —Homer, The Odyssey, Book 12
MEDICAL INNOVATIONS in America issue an almost irresistible call, like the Sirens in the Greek classic. In Homer's Odyssey, the Sirens were mythical creatures whose call to passing sailors from their island was so seductive that the sailors inevitably turned their ships to reach the Sirens, only to be shipwrecked in treacherous waters. When Odysseus passed on his voyage, he had his sailors put wax in their ears and bind him to the mast so that they wouldn't heed the Sirens' call and be swept to their deaths.
We're a "technoconsumptive" culture. We're pulled irresistibly to new technology, often without recognizing the risks. We seem to assume that high-tech medicine can only be better than low-tech medicine, that more medical care is better, that newer is better, and that more aggressive is better.
Yet sometimes this isn't so. In a study of more aggressive care versus more conservative care for certain patients with heart disease, the more aggressive strategy—with more cardiac catheterization and balloon