Johns Hopkins Ads Make Some Odd Choices

David Kiley

Johns Hopkins Medicine has been running image ads during Sunday morning TV that seek to promote the idea that better funded research at Johns Hopkins could lengthen the lives of remarkable and special people who were taken from us too soon. If only we had the medical breakthroughs to keep them with us longer...

It's not a bad idea, but the choices of people strike me as strange. Baseball great Lou Gehrig--striken by ALS in his mid 30s? Sure. Seems logical. But Lucille Ball? Lucy lived to be 77, had pretty much stopped performing, and by all accounts had her life cut short, if 77 is short, by a life of chain-smoking cigarettes. Leonard Bernstein? He died at 72, arguably to soon. But Bernstein, too, was a life-long chain smoker. Seems to me we have known for decades what kills chain smokers. Alexander Graham Bell? He died in 1922 at the age of 75. Seventy-five in those days was a pretty darn good life. And Winston Churchill? Winny died in 1965 at the age of 91 following decades of staying up all night and habitual cigar smoking. Seems like a great run for anyone.

With the exception of Gehrig, I'm struggling to see here what medical research could have done for these folks to extend their lives. The implication of the ads is that we would have reaped more greatness from these people if they had lived longer. I wonder. In the 1950s, Churchill helped overthrow the last Democratically elected leader of Iran because he planned to nationalize Iran's oil industry, which would have meant more expensive oil for Great Britain and the loss of a Brit-owned refinery. The Brits and the U.S. installed The Shah, and we know where that jewel of foreign policy got us. Churchill, as great as he was in World War Two in holding together British resistance to the Nazis, also had been the architect of forming the country of what we know today as Iraq, colonially and arbitrarily coppled together from territories occupied by three tribes that don't get along very well. Why? To make Britain's claim on Middle East oil easier to manage.

The point here: that Johns Hopkins could have chosen some people who made more sense for the ads, people who clearly died of disease and who had great work and accomplishments ahead of them. A few suggestions: Gilda Radner, Humphrey Bogart, Andy Kauffman, Mozart, Babe Didrikson Zaharias. And that's just a start.