Exploring Human Potential

The Health of Our Nation: From Uncle Tom’s Cabin To The Global Burden of Disease Report. A Week To Remember…

Posted on | July 16, 2013 | 2 Comments

Mike Magee

This past week the long awaited Global Burden of Disease update arrived. For the US, there was some evidence of progress, but still troubling signs that for all of our considerable investment in health care, the US population lags other nations in health.(1)

The systematic approach taken in this study uses a measure called the DALY, or “disability adjusted life year”.(2,3) This construct is intended to measure human potential. The idea being that certain diseases, injuries, and adverse occurrences negatively impact a “full and complete life, well-lived”. Thus, lives ended unnecessarily, and at a young age, carry with them an enormous human toll in lost potential.

Also in the news this week was the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, a case that was prominently displayed over the past three weeks on cable TV and garnered 10 million US viewers for the announcement of the decision.(4) On trial was not simply George Zimmerman, but also an unwise piece of legislation that promotes uncivilized vigilante behavior and moves us as a nation in an unhealthy direction interrupting our hard fought and bumpy but continuous process toward healing and civility.

In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published, selling over 300,000 copies in it’s first year. Author and critic Alfred Kazin called it “The most powerful and most enduring work ever written about American slavery”.(5) It’s prominence in the American lexicon speaks for itself, and its relevance regarding goodness and governance, leadership by legislation, women’s roles in creating civil societies and the underpinnings of Christrianity in the unrealized potential of the American dream all speak to the continued value of the publication.

On page 2 of the preface, Harriet Beecher Stowe comments, “It is a comfort to hope, as so many of the world’s sorrows and wrongs have, from age to age, been lived down, so a time shall come when sketches similar to these shall be valuable only as memorials of what has long ceased to be.”(5)

To this, we must respond today, “Not yet. There is work that remains.”

On the last page of her book, Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1852 reflects, “”This is an age of the world when nations are trembling and convulsed. A mighty influence is abroad, surging and heaving the world, as with an earthquake. And is America safe? Every nation that carries in its bosom great and unredressed injustice has in it the elements of this last convulsion.”(5)

To this, we must respond today, “We will never be free, safe and healthy if our elected leaders promote policies – whether here or abroad – that belie our finer instincts, promote fear, and trigger predation.”

Yesterday, at the White House, our current President honored our former President. Here in part, is what he said: “…given the humility that’s defined your life, I suspect it’s harder for you to see something that’s clear to everybody else around you, and that’s how bright a light you shine — how your vision and example have illuminated the path for so many others, how your love of service has kindled a similar love in the hearts of millions here at home and around the world.  And, frankly, just the fact that you’re such a gentleman and such a good and kind person I think helps to reinforce that spirit of service. So on behalf of us all, let me just say that we are surely a kinder and gentler nation because of you and we can’t thank you enough.”(6)

To be healthy in America, to realize our full potential, to be civilized, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “to make good the cause of freedom against slavery you must be… Declaration of Independence walking.”(7)

For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee.


1. Murray CJL et al. Global Burden of Disease Study 2010.

2. Magee M. Global Burden of Disease. Health Politics: Power, Populism and Health. Spencer Books, NY, NY. 2007.

3. Magee M. Global Burden of Disease: 2012 Study Update.

4. Carter C. Zimmerman Verdict Drew 10 Million Cable TV News. July 15, 2013. NYT.

5. Stowe HB. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Dover Publications Inc., Mineola, NY, 2005.

6. The White House. Remarks by President Obama and President George H.W. Bush at Points of Light Award Ceremony.  July 15, 2013.

7. Magee MC,Jr. Emancipating Pragmatism: Emerson, Jazz, and Experimental Writing. The University of Alabama Press. 2004. p.3


2 Responses to “The Health of Our Nation: From Uncle Tom’s Cabin To The Global Burden of Disease Report. A Week To Remember…”

  1. janice mancuso
    July 16th, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

    You have become one of my favorite thought leaders of our age. You tied these three events together beautifully. I will do my part by posting it on the Osler Symposia Facebook Page.

    PS You may want to correct the date (from 1952 to 1852) at the beginning of the 3rd paragraph.

  2. Mike Magee
    July 16th, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

    Many thanks, Janice, for your kind words and for all the good you do day in and day out. Best, Mike

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