Suspend your disbelief and imagine the following miracle to have occurred: A young doctor working in a hospital discovers that he has the power to cure anyone under the age of seventy of any sickness or injury simply by touching the patient. Any contact, however brief, between any part of his skin and the skin of the patient will cure the disease.

He has always been devoted to his work, and he wants to use his gift to benefit humanity as much as possible. However, he knows that the gift is absolutely non-transferable, will last for his lifetime only, and will not persist in tissue separated from his body. This was explained by the angel or flying saucerite who gave it to him.

What will happen if he uses his gift?

What should he try to do and how should he go about it?

What is the most favorable result that can be expected?

I consider myself a member of the scientific rather than the literary culture, and my idea of the correct answers to the above questions reflects this. However, in order to mislead the reader, I shall give some pessimistic scenarios and related literary exercises.


1. The doctor uses his gift, the other doctors are jealous and disbelieving and drive him from the hospital. He cures patients outside, they get him for quackery and put him in jail where he can't practice. Even in jail, he cures people, and the prison doctor has him put in solitary confinement. Even there he cures a guard of cancer and then the little daughter of the warden of the prison. This arouses the fears of the insecure, narrow minded, brutalized and bureaucratized prison doctors to the extent that they have him sent to a hospital for the criminally insane to be cured of his delusion. There, they lobotomize him. Write scenes in which doctors disbelieve cures taking place before their eyes, self justifying speeches by people who decide to imprison him even though they know better, and the report justifying his commitment to the mental hospital.

2. His gift is judged sacrilegious by the church of your choice. Fanatics are aroused by preachers, and our hero is burned at the stake. Write a speech justifying burning the doctor as a lesser evil compared to letting him go on violating God's law that man must suffer disease and death.

3. His gift is judged holy by a religion that gets control of him, and its use is surrounded by so much ritual that hardly anyone gets cured. Describe the ritual; make it beautiful.

4. People keep coming to him until he is exhausted, but there is always an emergency case more touching than all that have gone before and eventually he dies of exhaustion. Write his speech saying that he realizes he can cure more people if he gets some sleep, but true morality requires him to treat the immediate emergency.

5. He forms an organization for curing people and at first works very hard but gradually gets lazy, is corrupted by desire for money, power, fame and women, requires more and more flattery and obsequiousness, eventually strives single-mindedly for power, develops cruel tastes, comes to dominate the country, and is finally assassinated. Write speeches for him justifying his increased demands at various stages. Write the self-justifying speech of the assassin.

6. He is taken over by the U.S. government which either:

a. keeps him to cure members of the ruling military-industrial complex and to co-opt leaders of the people. Describe the subtle way in which a revolutionary is co-opted in the guise of being given a say in how the gift shall be used. Write the speech of a revolutionary refusing to be cured of his wounds after unsuccessfully trying to blow up the doctor.

b. devises a system of boards to allocate the use of his ability in the fairest possible way, but its operation is frustrated by injunctions and demonstrations by paranoid groups (your choice as to whether the groups are left, right or center) that cannot be convinced that his services are being allocated fairly. Write speeches charging that any of the following groups are not getting their fair share: Blacks, veterans, the poor, Southerners, policemen. Make up lists of demands on behalf of these groups.

c. creates a vast bureaucracy to administer his gift that bungles hideously but amusingly. Write a description of the computer bungle that requires him to cure the same person 103 times and 102 people zero times each. Describe the questionnaire that has to be filled out even by the dying in order to be cured. Describe humorously how a dying man completes the form in the nick of time, but is prevented from being cured at the last minute because he has written "same as the above" in a space where he should have written his address for the third time.

d. gets into a dispute with the Russians who want the doctor to cure their leaders too. This leads to a nuclear war. Write the dialog at the final negotiating session casting the Russians as the villains rejecting a reasonable American offer. Rewrite it casting the Americans as villains trying to use their control of the doctor to rule the world. Write the dialog with neither side as villains but just as paranoid and stupid. Rewrite it so as to admit all three of the above interpretations. Describe a scene in which the sly and wicked Russians swindle the gullible Americans with the aid of a woolly-minded pinko homosexual American professor into letting the Russians get their hands on the doctor. Write the speech of the KGB chief sending the agent on his mission in the style of a James Bond novel and also in the style of Colonel Abel's memoirs. Describe a CIA attempt to use the doctor to blackmail a Cuban diplomat whose little daughter is dying of leukemia into assassinating Castro. Describe the death scene of the little girl who, even dying, understands why she must die in order to defeat imperialism. Write suitable speeches for the dying little girl and for the head of the CIA justifying the blackmail to a squeamish agent. Describe the scene after the bombs have fallen with the doctor running around curing a few radiation injuries in a scene of vast devastation. Also write a repentant speech for him refusing to cure any more or the reproachful speech of a dying person refusing to be cured.

7. The scientists insist on studying his gift to the exclusion of letting him use it. Ever more dangerous experiments are tried until he is killed. Describe how the scientist become more and more neurotic in the face of this miracle unexplainable by their puny materialistic minds. Describe some of their silly experiments. Describe one of their inhuman experiments in which people are killed in order to determine the exact moment when someone is dead and can no longer be revived by the doctor. Write a scene in which the doctor discovers what is being done and the chief scientist justifies it to him.

8. The Mafia or the Weathermen kidnap the doctor and threaten to kill him unless some demand is met. Write the threatening letters from the two groups. Include justifications of the most outrageous demands you can think of.

9. The doctor is taken over by technocrats who drug him, confine him, and rule his life in order to get the last iota of productivity out of him. Describe a scene in which a high executive demands more productivity and threatens to replace the psychiatrist in charge of him. His many attempts to commit suicide are frustrated by the clever technocrats. Eventually, a nurse falls in love with him and helps him commit suicide. Give their dialog as they die in each others arms.

10. A wrangle about what to do goes on until he dies of old age. Write a speech saying, "Stop this endless debate and start some action." that has the effect of delaying action further. Write a speech showing how the third in a series of two year studies will save time in the long run.

11. The doctor has a visitation from a second angel who explains that the apparent first angel was really the devil who gave him this gift in order to bring him into sin. Expound the theology of this.

12. In order to destroy his gift the doctor tricks some scientists into skinning him alive. Explain why he does this.

13. He brings about universal health and the population explodes.

14. Universal health is achieved, but when he dies medicine has been neglected, immunities are gone and plague wipes us out.

15. Write a great American novel combining as many of the above catastrophes as possible.

16. Write an impassioned letter to him urging him to keep his gift secret.

I believe that all the above catastrophes would be avoided and the gift made into a great benefit. Those readers who consider themselves as members of C. P. Snow's scientific culture should try to work out the best solution for a day or so before going to the solution page.

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