Saturday, January 29, 2011

God Fucks Up: Science Saves the Day

For all of those out there who might still believe in a god, your god is a douchebag – unless, of course, you think that human life results from an embryo naturally developing from the fusion of a sperm and an egg (which is susceptible to teratogens, natural genetic aberrations, environmental influence, etc.).  Otherwise, some deity just gave a pre-born baby a giant deadly tumor that weighs more than the baby itself (pictures below).  Oh, and if you think there's a god behind the natural events leading to human life, I’m sure you also think a god is responsible for creating the universe.  If so, your god is also responsible for everything in it, including the natural phenomena that lead to deadly cancers.  Try as he/she/it might, even divine corruption did not stop doctors from blocking the evil masterwork of giving a baby in gestation a giant tumor.

The fascinating story was recently published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery entitled: “Preoperative embolization of giant sacrococcygeal teratoma in a premature newborn”.  In other words, “We [doctors] cured a prematurely born baby of a deadly tumor that weighs more than the baby itself.”  This was no small feat – your god has had … well … an eternity to perfect the art of giving living things cancer – scientists and doctors have only had a hundred years or so to really fight back.  Great news: we’re getting better at beating god’s evil plans!  In fact, this particular method of foiling god’s cancer plans has only been used once before.

At about 20 weeks of pregnancy the large tumor was identified as a sacrococcygeal teratoma, or SCT.  Teratomas are special tumors that can also be very dangerous – they originate from your germ cells (the cells that make sperm or egg depending on if you’re a male or a female).  SCTs are one of the most common forms of teratomas because they arise in the pelvic region, right where germ cells can end up if they get off track from your gonads.  In this particular case, the mother was immediately give corticosteroid treatment to ease her immune system and protect the baby.  This particular tumor was immature meaning that it had very aggressive and potentially malignant cells inside it.  After close monitoring of the mother and unborn child, the mother suddenly entered labor at 30 weeks and the doctors had to perform a C-section.  This is what they found attached to the baby after delivering her:

The combined weight of baby and tumor was 3.43 kg.  The tumor itself weighed (1.86 kg) more than the baby (1.57 kg)!  Unfortunately these kinds of tumors are very dangerous to cut off (ressect) because of the huge risk of bleeding.  The bigger the tumor, the bigger the arteries carrying blood, the bigger the risk of the baby bleeding to death before the doctors can save her.  Fortunately, the doctors have science on their side.  After taking a picture called an arteriogram, the doctors were able to see the main artery that was sourcing the blood to the tumor (see the arrow):

 Normally doctors try to keep your blood stream clean of cholesterol – otherwise you might get a clot that will stop the blood flow and kill you.  In this case, the doctors reckoned that they could induce an artificial clot (called an embolism) right at the site of the artery branching off to the tumor to block the blood flow and attempt to choke it off from oxygen and food – this way, when they ressect the tumor there would be less risk of bleeding.  So, they used a commercial product called Gelitaspon (small gelatin sponges) and injected some in the artery leading into the tumor.  You can see here that this successfully reduced the blood flow to the teratoma:

At this point the doctors ressected the tumor and the bleeding was minimal.  Unfortunately there was a lot of cell death from the tumor that had still managed to circulate in the baby’s bloodstream (hemolysis) which caused major problems, culminating in a full on cardiac arrest (heart attack).  The baby’s heart stopped for a full 6 minutes.  SIX MINUTES!  I guess god really didn’t want this baby to be born.

Fortunately, doctors provided injections of gluconate, insulin, adrenalin, hydrocortisone, and other science-y drugs that saved the baby’s life.  After 6.5 weeks the baby was allowed to leave the hospital and has been receiving monthly checkups every since.  Despite a solid effort by your god, the baby survived.

If you’re someone who likes to give a god credit for things like the sunrise, the ocean’s tides, the formation of the grand canyon, and/or the “miracle” of human life, then it’s high time you also start giving your god credit for the viruses, bacteria, and cancers that are so good at destroying human beings.  Let’s face it – if you think a god is behind the scenes of nature, then to human beings, your god is a douchebag.


William Woody said...

It truly is a great thing that those doctors cured that child from the horrible complications threatening it.

What makes you assume that this douchebag god was actively trying to kill the baby? Why do you rule out the possibility that he felt just as much sympathy, if not more, for the child, than its own mother?

Tracey Seth said...

You must have seen this infant while you were at UCSF, since UCSF and Children's in Philidelphia are pretty much the main two hospitals in the country who do a lot with SCTs.

Am I correct in thinking this photo was not right after birth, but some time after the blood flow was cut off? I've never seen an SCT look like this right after birth, and I have seen many.

We considered both UCSF and CHOP when our daughter was born with an SCT. As it was, hers was about the size of a tennis ball and not as serious as SCTs go, so we went to Atlanta, where my husband has family. We're from Montana and no one in the state could help us.

Our daughter will be 5 in August and has had no issues that some SCT survivors have.

I do want to address the idea of it all being "God's fault."

I do believe in God. I don't blame Him. I don't blame him for when my son died at 3 days old from Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, either, 18 months before my daughter was born.

I think the reason is because I identify with God as a parent. When my son died, my mother told me that the hardest thing she ever had to witness was watching me and my husband choose clothes to bury our son in. If she could have spared me that pain, she would have.

I know I would spare any of my own children (I have 8) even the pain of the smallest things, like broken hearts and feelings of peronal failure. I most defintiely do the best I can to keep them safe and to instruct them to keep safe themselves.

But, things happen,despite our best efforts, and most of the time, it's no one's fault.

I wonder if Jesus himself didn't argue with God about being born a baby...that Herrod wanted to kill. I wonder if the relationship between Jesus and God didn't involve the struggles of parents who know their 18 year olds aren't equipped to handle the world, yet know they have to let them go anyway.

I know that because I want to spare my children every hardship and that I would die in their place if necessary, that God, my Father, wants the same for me.

There are those who would tell me that my son's dying was my punishment for my sins. That's only people talking. God didn't want me to feel the pain of losing my son, because He lost His too, and He knows what that seperation is like. Was the death of Jesus under His control? I personally can't see how it was. So, I am left to think that it wasn't up to Him. I think things have been set in motion from the beginning and God interfering wouldn't solve anything. **Shrug**

The purpose of my faith is to believe that there is life beyond this one; that this life will not end once I draw my last breath. Quite frankly, I'm sort of refusing to stop believing all together, because NOT believing is the same to me as saying that it's okay with me to never see that boy again. I can't bear that thought.

Perhaps a different way of looking at it and to consider.

Cookulacrates said...

@William: The assumption that god is killing the baby is derived from the idea that god is all powerful and has the ability to save the baby but chooses not to do so. For god to feel sad about the situation it means that he also is choosing to not intervene which makes him not so godly (at least not the merciful, compassionate god that new testament believers often preach about). The alternative is that god is also sad because he is incapable of intervening ... if that is the case then he really isn't much of a god at all.

Cookulacrates said...

@Tracey: First off, thank you so much for your thoughtful response. I'm touched that you took the time to share some of your story, and I'm sorry for the loss and sorrow you've had to experience. I do not know what it feels like to lose a child and hope I never have to.

A couple of quick facts: 1) I did not see this infant personally and 2) am not a clinician. 3) I studied these kinds of tumors for my PhD. 4) I am so happy that your daughter survived her SCT and hasn't had complications like other survivors have had.

I want to respond in kind to your thoughtful comments, but it's a bit difficult for me because I realize that our perspectives are quite different. There are many aspects of your comments here that reveal major differences in how we think about 'higher powers'.

For example: you assume the existence of a god, specifically a christian god, and that this christian god had a mortal son named Jesus who was divine and had a relationship with the god on some level. I am not willing to concede that any of that is true, but for the sake of arguing I will accept those premises to argue a different point.

There is a logical point that is important to me that I think explains why I would disagree with your statement "despite our best efforts, and most of the time, it's no one's fault." Classically this is referred to as an ontological argument because it has to do with logical reasoning.

The premise is that if a god exists, particularly the christian god, then he/she is all-powerful; this god created the universe and set all things in motion and (according to christianity) is thus deserving of our love and adoration. An all-powerful being must by definition be capable of intervening to change any aspect of his creation; if he can't, the he would not be considered all powerful. Therefore, when a child is born with a tumor (a result of the system that the god created), the god can choose to step in and heal the cancer (by definition of being all-powerful). If the child is born with the cancer and not healed by the god, then it indicates that the god chose not to heal the baby. This capricious act indicates a god who *can* heal but *chooses* not to. Therefore the fault/blame lies with the god: he's either guilty because he created the system that caused the cancer to begin with or he's guilty because he chose not to do anything about it.

(continued below)

Cookulacrates said...

@Tracey: You've found solace in the story of how god lost his son. But if god is god, then why did he have to kill his son to save us? I mean, he's 'God' for goodness sake... why can't he just save us without killing anyone? To say that god can't do it any other way is to imply that god is not capable or all-powerful to do so, thus removing him from the status of god.

I agree with you that anyone who would say that your son's death is punishment for "sins" is just barking mad. I can't believe someone would even say that to someone who's been through so much. No one deserves to experience that sort of grief.

But it seems your response is to say "I have to believe in god because if I don't then I'm giving up hope of seeing my son again." With all due respect, that is a belief out of fear, not out of truth. For me, that is what I want to avoid. Believing something out of fear of the unknown or fear of the truth seems to be a terrible reason to believe. To make a crude comparison, that's what is demanded of people who live under authoritarian regimes: follow/believe in a leader for fear of what might happen if you don't.

I do not want to believe in something out of fear, I want to believe in something because it is true. To stop believing in a god would not mean that you're "okay" with never seeing your son again; it would be you accepting that life can be cruel and meaningless sometimes (to say the least), and that we must stick together and rely on each other in times of hardship and sadness. This life is all we get, and the more we realize that the more this world will become a better place because we'll want it to be so, instead of looking forward to a time after this place.

Thanks again for reading, and for sharing your thoughts. I wish you and your family much happiness. Should you experience deep grief in the future, while you're looking up for faith, don't forget to look to your sides and remember all those friends and family and doctors and nurses and teachers and police officers and live by principles of love and brotherhood because they realize that what really brings meaning to this life is each other.

Abdelilah Benaou said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abdelilah Benaou said...

The fact that you are still alive today to witness the baby's birth is due to Allah the powerful, you are not blind, nor deaf, nor disabled and you are probably in good health and of all these precious gifts - that you cannot buy - are from Allah.

ktbird21 said...

I am curious why you seem angry about a "god" that "doesnt exist". If He doesn't exist, what do you care? Why feel the need to call names? How do you know your beliefs (or lack thereof) constitute "truth"? There are answers to your legitimate questions if you set aside the hostility and studied the Bible. Based on your questions, you do not understand the Christian God. I suggest you try it out, then go back to your disbelief if you so choose (free will after all)!

Matthew Cook said...

@ktbird21 I can't be upset at an imaginary being; I'm upset with people who insist on praising that imaginary being rather than praising the medical team when the cancer is cured. I'm upset at religious fanatics (and religious moderates) who constantly talk about the beauty of god's creation yet fail to assign credit for infectious/genetic diseases, natural disasters, or the like. The point of this post was to get folks to really consider whether an omnipotent omniscient being could really NOT be held accountable for all of the bad things in the world if they are given credit for all of the good things.

And for the record, I studied the bible for a very long time. There are very few answers, but many, many questions I had after reading it. You should consider watching "Letting Go of God" by Julia Sweeney. You can buy it on Amazon or listen to it on YouTube.

Imma Gee Zure said...

Hey, Guy! I so like your attitude. Thank you for calling the big dog out and for doing something to help humanity. Never forget...GOD FUCKS...babies and other living things.