One way to help stop the dying

January 13, 2009

Last year he was the 94th richest man in the world. Last week Adolf Merckle stepped in front of a train near his home in Blaubeuren, Germany. The suicide note he left behind has not been made public, but Merckle’s family said in a statement that “the distress to his firms caused by the financial crisis and the related uncertainties of recent weeks, along with the helplessness of no longer being able to act, broke the passionate family businessman.”

Last year he was the 94th richest man in the world. Last week Adolf Merckle stepped in front of a train near his home in Blaubeuren, Germany. The suicide note he left behind has not been made public, but Merckle's family said in a statement that "the distress to his firms caused by the financial crisis and the related uncertainties of recent weeks, along with the helplessness of no longer being able to act, broke the passionate family businessman."

For many, the fiscal malaise that grips the world is personal. For those like Merckle who still possess more than most, it is not a matter of money. It is loss -- loss of what they had, loss of self respect, loss of hope.

It is not a coincidence that the 1930s were a time of global conflict. We are already seeing signs of unrest. We will see more as the dregs of leadership harness suffering as their means to power. The consequences are all around us, on network newscasts and Internet video clips of the carnage in Gaza.

Is there anything more horrific than parents carrying their infants and little children through the dilapidated doors of an overburdened hospital? Can anything drive the feeling of helplessness deeper?

Put aside for the moment the political arguments of Hamas and Israel and the moral arguments they wage as the reasons to kill. See just the result of their actions -- death of hundreds who never picked up a rifle or otherwise sought the destruction of other human beings. Hundreds more will die, many for no other reason than a lack of medical equipment to save them.

Thousands of portable x-ray systems, ultrasound scanners, and patient monitors are gathering dust in warehouses, waylaid by an economy gone wrong. Many of these units are new, but many also are trade-ins, shrink-wrapped and stockpiled for sales that may or may not come.

Our industry is powerless to stop the killing. But it could provide medical equipment that could help stop the dying. Any of the half-dozen humanitarian organizations operating in Gaza could coordinate the delivery of this equipment. Physicians for Human Rights, an Israeli humanitarian organization, is pleading for ultrasound and x-ray machines, portable monitors, respirators, needles, catheters, surgical gloves, medical gases, endotracheal tubes, and screws and plates.

It is unconscionable to acquiesce to the helplessness that feeds conflict when we have the means to help, even if only a little bit. In doing so, we dispel the kind of helplessness that led Merckle to take his own life. We replace it with a sense of accomplishment that can be shared across the thousands who work in our industry. Most importantly, we provide hope to those most stricken, hope to hang on a little longer, maybe long enough to keep the horrors of war from spreading.