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August 1972

The Heart of the Matter

Author Affiliations

St. Louis
From the Department of Surgery, St. Louis University.

Arch Surg. 1972;105(2):149-150. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1972.04180080005001

Graham Greene in his book, The Heart of the Matter,1 depicts a man of good will who, when he became entangled in the complexities of his personal and professional life, abdicated his long-standing principles by taking his life. Scobie, faced with the problem of a wife and a mistress, both of whom he truly loved, and also involved in professional activities that were below his expectation for himself, feigned chest pain, obtained a diagnosis of angina pectoris—and medication—and then drugged himself to death. He justified his action, which was contrary to his avowed beliefs (he was a Catholic), because he acted out of love for the two women, and he judged that the consequence of his actions would be good. He priced his human existence below the value of being freed of conflicting social interests.

Greene thus nicely sets the contemporary moral problem as the choice between basing actions

Greene G: The Heart of the Matter . New York, Viking Press, 1948.
Baram MS:  Social control of science and technology . Science 172:535-539, 1971.Article
Ramsey P: The Patient As Person . New Haven, Conn, Yale University Press, 1970.
Gustafson J:  Basic ethical issues in the biomedical fields . Soundings 53:151-180, 1970.
Ramsey P:  The ethics of a cottage industry in an age of community and research medicine . New Eng J Med 284:700-706, 1971.Article