Author: Dr. Harry J. Saranchak, M.D.
Author: Dr. Harry J. Saranchak, M.D.
There are two markedly noteworthy elements about Harry J. Saranchak's debut novella, Betrayals of Hippocrates: Crimes Against Innocence: he is a very impressive storyteller, and he incorporates some challenging questions concerning medical ethics and debatable surgical practices.
When reading the story, I couldn't help compare Saranchak's fictional evil character, Dr. Vincent Edison Longfellow with the actual mad Nazi war criminal, Dr. Josef Mengele. The latter, as many of us are aware, is infamous for performing grisly human experiments on camp inmates for which he was called the “Angel of Death.” Both individuals are cut from the same cloth and probably would have welcomed the opportunity to work with each other, as they both conducted gruesome and horrifying experiments. Both were also very committed to their beliefs that these were in the best interests of medical science.
Set mainly in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, Betrayals of Hippocrates features a young Dr. Alston Crowley, who is the narrator, and the renowned sought-after medical practitioner and lecturer Dr. Longfellow. Crowley had spent two years studying medicine in an offshore medical school in the Caribbean island of Montserrat and when the time came to begin his surgical residency, he chose the New York Charity Hospital, where he was to spend the next four years of his life. After six months of a lack luster performance that ordinarily would have led to his dismissal, Crowley is given a second chance and is assigned to the Physicians Scientific Research Institute in Haiti. It is here where he will spend the next two years working with eminent researchers, and he is informed that if he shows promise, he can return to the surgical residency program and become a surgeon.
One evening, Crowley meets a brilliant invertebrate biologist and researcher from Costa Rica, Enrique Salazar Pasquas, who drops off a mysterious bag of frogs with red, green and bright yellow markings. Pasquas collected the frogs from the remote rain forests of Costa Rica. He believed they were a new species and consequently names them“the Salazar Pasquas Tree Frog.”
If you touched these frogs, you would experience a curious buzzing sensation. Pasquas asks Crowley to determine what these frogs secrete and why it causes this sensation.
Eventually, Crowley, working with his superior Dr. Harry Thornton, discovers that the secretion resembles Human Growth Hormone (also called “somatotropin”). We are informed that this is a protein of “about one-hundred-ninety amino acids that are synthesized and secreted by cells called “somatotrophs” in the brain's anterior pituitary gland. The hormone is commonly used to treat children of pathologically short stature.”
As the tale continues, we learn that the serum extracted from these frogs, aside from the ability to enlarge animal organs without harmful side effects, can also, when injected in small, measured amounts, infuse muscles with increased energy. Now, you can well imagine what would happen if this serum found its way into the hands of an unprincipled surgeon, who plays God, believing that it is not a crime to sacrifice the lives of terminally ill children in order to advance medical science.
Betrayals of Hippocrates moves very quickly with its snappy dialogue and mysterious happenings that tantalize us throughout with questions as who will turn out to be the good guys and who are not. And apart from the gory details of this riveting medical thriller, readers will invariably recognize a broader issue that consumes the thoughts and actions of Crowley and his associates- medical ethics and the applicability of moral judgments and values as they apply to medicine. Fortunately, in real life, for the past several years there has been a growing influence concerning medical ethics and this can be attributed to the increasing use of review boards that evaluate experiments conducted on humans. In addition, more prevalent are hospital ethics committees and the expanded input of the clinician ethicist, as well as the inclusion of the teaching of ethics into the medical school curriculum.
Dr. Harry J. Saranchak is a graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. For thirty years, he was a vascular and general surgeon in three Connecticut hospitals, and for twenty-five of those years he was also an educator and mentor to medical students, residents and colleagues-while receiving eight Golden Scalpel awards for teaching excellence.
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