You Bet Your Life: From Blood Transfusions to Mass Vaccination, the Long, Risky History of Medical Innovations

Paul A. Offit. Basic, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-1-541-62039-1
Offit (Overkill), director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, explores nine major medical advances in this impressive look at history and technology. “Virtually every medical breakthrough has exacted a human price,” he writes, and aims to prove that no medical innovations are risk-free. The nine advances he focuses on—transplants, blood transfusions, anesthesia, biologics, antibiotics, vaccines, X-rays, chemotherapy, and genetic engineering—have all “been accompanied by tragedy,” and a look back at these lessons, he argues, can prevent them from being repeated. Offit first covers transplants, outlining how, in the mid-1960s, dozens of people died in attempted animal-to-human heart transplants, and early blood transfusions were similarly dangerous up until the 1900s, when blood typing began. All the men involved in early anesthesia trials “met unfortunate ends,” and public opinion of biologicals was tainted when a tainted tetanus antiserum killed patients. The way Offit tells the story of each medical advance is fascinating, packed with case studies and characters, including groundbreaking scientists and near-death patients. Ultimately, Offit writes, there’s risk associated with all new developments—“We can’t wait until we know everything, because we never know everything.” This thorough survey is as entertaining as it is informative. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 08/09/2021
Release date: 09/21/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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