Buried By Bad Decisions Essay

1893 WordsOct 13, 20118 Pages
Buried by bad decisions Nature Volume: 474, Pages: 275–277 (16 June 2011) Our brains are hard-wired to make poor choices about harm prevention in today’s world. But we can fight it, says Daniel Gilbert. The London Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial was founded in 1896 to prevent “premature burial generally, and especially amongst the members”. Because nineteenth-century physicians couldn’t always distinguish the nearly dead from the really most sincerely dead, premature burial was a problem. But not a big problem. The odds of being buried alive in 1896 were, like the odds of being buried alive today, very close to zero. Nonetheless, the good citizens of England formed action committees, wrote editorials and promoted legislation that ultimately led to expensive safeguards against “the horrible doom of being buried alive”1. Most of those safeguards — such as the costly requirement that bodies spend time in ‘attractive waiting mortuaries’ before being buried — are still with us today. The frequency with which modern cadavers use this waiting period to demonstrate that they’ve been misdiagnosed is approximately never. Premature burial isn’t a big problem, but the way we deal with big problems is. When an aeroplane’s fuselage rips open mid-flight, or an offshore oil rig explodes, or a nuclear power plant is crippled by a tsunami, we immediately ask what could have been done differently, blame those who didn’t do it, then allocate funds and pass legislation to make sure it gets done that way the next time. At first blush, this seems sensible. After all, no one is in favor of aviation accidents, reactor meltdowns or oil spills; so when these things happen, why not do everything we can to make sure they don’t happen again? The answer is that because resources are finite, every sensible thing we do is another sensible thing we don’t.

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