By Kyle | October 7, 2011
It’s horrifying to learn that Steve Jobs, for all his brilliance in some fields, was massively hostile to science. That decision probably shortened his life and may well have cost him a normal lifespan. When he first learned he had cancer in the pancreas, this Zen buddhist, like many another California celebrity, rejected conventional wisdom and the near-unanimous opinion of the medicial community and pursued quack cures such as dietary adjustments. Nine months later, when he discovered the tumor had become enlarged (and apparently spread to nearby organs), he finally chose surgery. “Think different” and “follow your dreams” are said to be the lesson of Jobs’ life. A wiser one might be, “Know what you don’t know.” Consider whether a knee-jerk contrarian attitude, even to fields in which you have no expertise, is wise. To be plain, Jobs shortened his life because he thought he was smarter than his doctors.
Jobs raises anew what I might call the Mickey Mantle question: In a zero-sum situation such as allocating livers for transplant in a world in which demand exceeds supply, is all human life to be valued at the same level? Mantle was a drunk who received a new liver he didn’t really deserve and anyway died a couple of years later.
Jobs had a liver transplant in 2009. That means some other person who needed a liver didn’t get it. This new liver may have shortened his life further (transplants require drugs to suppress the immune system, which is unwise if you have metastasized cancer) but in any case didn’t extend it beyond two years. I assume it would have been evident to the doctors who installed Jobs’ new liver that the chances of a long-term favorable outcome were very poor since the liver was not the site of localized disease but of metastasized cancer, which is more or less a death sentence.
I don’t know whether Jobs jumped the queue but it does seem that celebrities and rich people enjoy remarkably good fortune when it comes to confrontations with bureaucracy. Granting that Jobs was a great man — should great men be allowed to jump the queue for liver transplants? What if the person who didn’t get one would have lived another 25 years? Is two years of Jobs’ life worth 25 of an ordinary person’s?