The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

An Artificial Heart:
Human Ingenuity, Capitalist Fetters

Jan 6, 2014

On December 21st, French doctors put an artificial heart in a man. Unlike devices that up to now were only temporary before the patient received a heart transplant, this device is expected to last five years. This is an editorial in the December 27th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

For four days, a man has been living with an artificial heart. If it’s too soon to declare a success, this is certainly good news. This heart allows a 75-year-old man, with terminal cardiac insufficiency, to live. His heart beats normally, speeds up when he’s excited and then slows down, like any human heart.

If this proves to be a success, the 100,000 people with heart disease in Europe and the U.S. who are awaiting heart transplants could benefit from it. Due to the shortage of hearts available for transplant, only 5 to 7% today will be able to get a transplant. It will take years to evaluate the benefits and risks of this technology, but it offers the hope of increasing the lives of millions of people.

This implantation shows what human ingenuity can do. This isn’t individual genius, but the genius of society: when it brings together its ideas, its knowledge and its competence, it is capable of overcoming the most complex problems.

This is the result of twenty-five years of collective labor by hundreds of researchers, engineers, technicians and doctors. It is also based on the long experience with heart transplants. It is also due to high-tech sectors like microelectronics and numerical simulation.

Yes, humanity is capable of big things. But, as a society founded on capitalism, on exploitation of labor and the race for profit, progress only benefits a minority.

People of means benefit from technologies and the most skilled medical teams for serious diseases. Others do without dental care, glasses and medicine due to a lack of money. On the world scale, women and men die of malaria, cholera and measles that can be treated.

The limits put on humanity aren’t technical or scientific, they are social. The fact that society enables someone to live with an artificial heart, while being incapable of properly feeding a billion human beings, is an overwhelming proof of this.

The hold of profit will weigh on the beginning of this innovation, for as always with capitalism, it isn’t an affair of the heart, but one of a lot of money.

In the future, what profit margin will the stockholders demand? What price will the artificial heart sell for? It’s estimated to be $163,000. Will the national health insurance pay for it? Will there be some sick people who can afford to pay for an artificial heart while others cannot?

In order that progress not be seized by a minority and in order to open up all aspects of human life, a profound transformation of society is needed. The bourgeoisie needs to be expropriated, and the economy reorganized without profit and competition.

“Utopian,” some will say. But everything remains utopian until there are the means to bring them about. Flying in the air and then in space and walking on the moon were utopian, until human beings achieved these advances.