Original Repository: Oregon State University. Library. Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers
Reproduced with permission of the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers. Oregon State University Library.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Two Nobel Prizes
Albert Schweitzer, Physician and Humanitarian
By Frank Catchpool and Linus Pauling
Frank Catchpool was a member of the medical staff of the Schweitzer Hospital in Lambarene for three years (1956-1959); he
was Chief Physician during the second and third years. From January 1960 to June 1964 he carried on medical research in the
California Institute of Technology, in collaboration with Professor Pauling. His present address is University of California
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-ical Center, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.
Linus Pauling was associated with Albert Schweitzer for several years in the effort to stop the testing of nuclear weapons
and to prevent war. In 1959 he spent two weeks with Schweitzer in Lamborene. After more than forty years as a member of
the staff of the California Institute of Technology he assumed his present
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position of Research Professor of the Physical and Biological Sciences in the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions,
Santa Barbara, California, U.S.A.
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Of the thousands of millions of human beings who have lived during the first half of the Twentieth Century, we may expect
that the memory of only a few will be preserved in history -- of Einstein, whose new ways of looking at the world brought
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revolution in scientific thinking; of Bertrand Russell, who by application of his incisive intellect brought clarification
to mathematics, philosophy, and politics; and with little doubt, of Albert Schweitzer, who will be remembered as an outstanding
musician and musicologist,
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philosopher and moralist, physician and humanitarian, and leader of and active participant in the effort to save civilization
from destruction in a nuclear war.
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Schweitzer's humanitarian work is symbolized by the hospital in Lamborene, the product of fifty years of sweat in the
torrid waterlogged equatorial West African jungle, fifty years of frustration, fifty years of heartbreak as the unending stream
of suffering humanity washed up to the doors of the
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hospital like the tides on the shores. No case was ever refused, no sufferer was ever turned away, and no payments or thanks
were ever sough except, when feasible, a token gift or donation of labor to the chores of the hospital.
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In his book "Out of My Life and Thoughts" Schweitzer recalls that when he announced his intention to leave for Africa
his friends, colleagues, and relatives "expostulated with him on the folly of his enterprise". For one who had so
much to give, and who was then at the pinnacle of three careers, this epic gesture must have seemed like an act of renunciation
that could only be described as foolhardy and absurd.
By the time that he was thirty years old Schweitzer had earned three separate doctorates. Among his many published books in
the field of theology, philosophy, and musicology there were several important definitive works, such as "The Mystery
of the Kingdom of God" and "The Quest of the Historical Jesus", "The Philosophy of the Religion of Kant",
and "J. S. Bach, the Musician-poet*, that will remain as literary landmarks in the history of these subjects. As a scholar,
lecturer, and organist he was acclaimed and honored throughout Europe, and a career leading to worldwide fame seemed to be
assured to him. Then at the height of his vigorous career, as writer, concert organist, and university lecturer, he took
up the study of medicine.
His energy was enormous. Whilst studying medicine at the University at Strassbourg, a grinding six year course, he managed
to continue as
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"Maitre de conferences" of the theological faculty and as vicar of St. Nicolas cathedral. During this period he also
published a six-volume work on Back and a classic book on the Mysticism of Paul the Apostle. He later said he sometimes went
to his organ studies in the morning without having been to bed at all.
Why did he renounce all this and go to Lambarene as a doctor? Why did he not go as an evangelical missionary? He chose to
go as a doctor, he said, because he was tired of talk and wanted action. He chose Africa because of early conversations about
Africa with his father and because as a child he had been deeply impressed by a statue by Bartholdi of a Negro in chains that
stood in the market place in Colmar. Europe at this time was just beginning to hear of the atrocities being committed by
white men in Africa, about the baskets of human hands collected by Leopold's agents in the Congo, about the appalling
suffering and wastage of life that had been inflicted by the slave traders, who counted themselves lucky if 20 percent of
their catch was brought alive to the coast, who allotted to each slave only four cubic feet of cargo space in the holds of
the slave ships and who expected a 40 percent spoilage rate during the Atlantic crossing and about the plantation managers
who were thought to be not making adequate use of their investment if the slaves survived more than three years.
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slaves survived more than three years. The European conscience was stirring, the time for words was past. Medicine had med
such progress that doctors could honestly say they were doing more good than harm. The hideous tropical afflictions were
being catalogued and effective chemotherapy was being developed.
Schweitzer chose Lambarene because it was one of the most inaccessible areas of the world, and area heavily infected with
sleeping sickness, elephantiasis, malaria, schistosomiasis, Framboesia, leprosy, and many other terrible diseases, a large
area without a single doctor.
Schweitzer had to promise the Paris missionary society that in Africa he would remain "as silent as a carp" on theological
matters. His religious thinking was held by man to be dangerously heterodox. His doctoral thesis in medicine had been a
critical evaluation of psychiatric studies of Jesus. And since childhood he had been in the habit of asking rational questions
such as "if the wise men brought such precious gifts, why were the parents of Jesus always so poor?".
In 1913, before leaving for Africa, Schweitzer had said to friends that he credited himself with health, sound nerves, energy,
practical common sense, toughness, and prudence, and that he believed himself to be
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quite capable of enduring the eventual failure of his plan. These qualities were soon tested. Arriving at Lambarene in 1913,
he set up his first consulting room in an empty chicken hut in the grounds of the Protestant mission. Then in 1914, the war
started, and Schweitzer was promptly placed under house arrest by the French as an enemy alien. He could only watch as all
his supplies and equipment so carefully purchased with his life's earnings and the gifts of his skeptical friends were
looted by those whom he had come to help. Later on as the war became more bitter, he was transported back to France and interned
in a concentration camp where he became sick for the first time in his life.
In 1925 he returned to Africa with supplies to build a new and better hospital, purchased with the royalties of six more books
and the honorariums of many lectures and concerts. Working to an undrawn masterplan, he built the hospital that stands today.
By the mid 1930's it was probably the most modern bush hospital in all of Africa. It stands today, just after Schweitzer's
death, still pulsing with activity, a total of 56 galvanized iron-musty roof sheds, many already musty with age, a monument
to Schweitzer's incredible energy and ingenuity.
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Schweitzer, the intellectual, pushed back the forest, planted the fruit trees, dug the well. (He told us how after a certain
depth had been reached, the walls were in danger of collapsing, he ordered his men out and finished the well himself.)
Schweitzer, the intellectual, taught the convalescent patients how to make string from cactus leaves and how to forge nails
from old scrap iron, for in the jungle everything is precious. It was a prodigious effort to supervise the sawing of lumber
from the huge ironwood logs, the mixing of concrete with hand-broken stones. His vegetable gardens were a source of amazement
to the old Africa hands. Boats incongruously resembling Rhine River punts were built under his supervision; they still ply
the Ogowe today.
The trickle of patients soon grew to a steady stream, and Schweitzer, the mason and carpenter, labored also as Surgeon and
Dentist, as Obstetrician and Pharmacist, compounding his own drugs and teaching the patients how to knit bandages. In "The
Edge of the Primeval Forest" Schweitzer recorded how glass containers in which to dispense medicines became infinitely
valuable. Decades later readers of the book were still moved to send him crates of old medicine bottles. Schweitzer would
solemnly pay duty on the incoming parcels of
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bottles, write in longhand a sincere letter of thanks, and then dump the bottles in the river, since by that time medicines
were arriving already mixed in individual bottles. In later years, as the hospital grew and more doctors and nurses came to
assist him, Schweitzer would survey the teaming pharmacy and say, "Ach, wie Lurchtbar[?] gross ist meiner Spital geworden[?],
and turn with renewed energy to build more accommodations for that patients and staff. Schweitzer always managed to keep
his eye on the main objective -- to treat suffering Africans. The treatment remained the first priority; no one should be
turned away. Even in a visitor to the hospital, in his normal state of health, several parasitic diseases could be found
and treated. No payment was asked other than a "coup de main" from those fit enough to work, and a token gift to
the hospital. The tasks were tailored to suit the African's ability. The wives of the operated man were requested to
help scrub the operating room floor. Other members of the family would haul water for the vegetable garden. Squads of the
patient's relatives would be put to the endless task of keeping the jungle at bay. Others would help with the construction
of new buildings. The effort required to organize and direct these work teams, often recruited
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amongst Africans whose physical and mental powers and will to work had been eroded by years of malnutrition, anaemia, and
repeated fevers, absorbed a large amount of Schweitzer's and his assistant's energy. The exhortations to accomplish
the task at hand often led casual observers and transitory visitors to the impression that Schweitzer was autocratic in his
manner and dictatorial in his administration of the hospital.
There are many strange customs unique to his hospital, and it is sometimes difficult to understand Schweitzer's fundamental
logic behind each custom. For instance, after having been caught short of supplies in two world wars, Schweitzer decided
to build and stock many storerooms, in order to be prepared for emergencies. After he had heard that the label on a bottle
of medicine might well fall off because of the humidity or become illegible after attack by termites, he ordered that every
bottle should be carefully
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labeled on both sides and also on the bottom -- an unidentified bottle of medicine is dangerous.
The criticism has often been voiced that Schweitzer did not move with the times. Visitors to the hospital in recent years
were astonished that Schweitzer had no power boat to move supplies and visitors to the hospital. In the early days of the
hospital there were one or two passenger boats a year reaching the west coast of equatorial Africa; then [ . . . ] a dangerous
two -- or three-day motor-boat trip up the Ogowe river to Lambarene. Now one can reach an airfield near the hospital by airplane.
From the dirt runway hewn out of the jungle there is a short ride by truck, if it is running, to the south bank of the southern
fork of the river. Visitors to the hospital find the hospital canoe waiting for them at the river's edge. This venerable
craft has outlasted a dozen motor boats, and its motor has never failed. It is powered by four or five lepers from the leper
village. These men, long-time residents of the hospital, have feet so eroded by repeated injuries and infections resulting
from their disease that they are barely able to walk. The paddling of the canoe provides them with the ideal occupation.
They are [ . . . ] the fresh air, and the trip downstream is really no effort at all; the trip back gives them three-quarters
of an hour of good, solid exercise.
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The long wait at the river's bank keeps them off their feet. For this work they are provided with a hut, treated with
medicines, fed, and clothed. Schweitzer has been criticized for not modernizing his transportation. However, if one looks
in the shed just below the pharmacy, one will find the remains of two eight-passenger river boats, each fitted with an antique
two-cylinder engine. These boats were a gift to the hospital from a group of Swedish admirers in the 1920's. In fact,
the hospital was motorized at a time when there were few motor boats in Africa. Unfortunately, the hulls were made of good
Scandinavian pine wood, which has a very short life in the tropics.
It has been said that Schweitzer denied his patients modern drugs and treatment and that the standards of hygiene were bound
to prejudice the patients' recovery. However, it should be remembered that the principal factor in a surgical operation
is the skill of the surgeon rather than the complexity of the instruments. Sterility depends on the care with which the instruments
and the linen are sterilized rather than on their color and polish. At Schweitzer's hospital the preparation of patients
for operation and the sterilization of linen and instruments were conducted in an elaborate ritual carefully worked out thirty
years ago, and modified only as proved innovations were introduced into practice. Africa is no place for experimentation,
because the press of routine, life-preserving surgery makes [ . . . ] almost criminal to waste time on unproved techniques.
New techniques cannot easily be evaluated in Africa because of the multiplicity of diseases and the uncertainty of environmental
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Chickens, goats, and children, and to be fed with food cooked in the irrational[?] manner by their own women folk, with the
cooking pots balanced on three large stones and heated by a handful of burning sticks.
It has often been asked why Schweitzer did not train Africans to staff his hospital and other hospitals. One answer may be
that he came wash their feet and to bind up their wounds himself, and not to train others to do the task that he had taken
up in the name of all white men; but there is also the suggestion in some of his writings that he doubted that the Africans
had reached the stage in their development when this training would be successful.
As one strolls through the hospital one is buffeted by conflicting [ . . . ] -- repelled by the hideous afflictions of some
of the patients, [ . . . ] by the sound of laughter, since the hospital is surely one of the happiest of hospitals; appalled
by the squalor and filth, then [ . . . ] by the thought that the hospital dormitories closely approximate an average African's
village; shocked by the meager rations, but chastened by remembering that few "civilized" hospitals provide free food.
Schweitzer wrote that "A single doctor in Africa, even with the most modest equipment, can mean very much for very many.
The good which he can accomplish surpasses and hundredfold what he gives of his own life and the cost of the material support
that he must have. With a few simple drugs, and sufficient skill and apparatus for the most necessary operations, he can,
in a single year, free hundreds of men from the grip of suffering and death." If this be true, can a doctor justify taking
time out from the
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struggle with suffering and death to labor with an air-conditioning plant for his operating room? Can he divert funds from
the purchase of life-saving drugs to purchase the comforts of civilization for himself or his patients? Today in other parts
of Africa there can be found several white-elephant hospitals, beautiful to look at, but understaffed and underprovided with
drugs because the cost of building has been so great that there was nothing left over.
On one notable occasion, in April 1957, Schweitzer did take time out from his medical and administrative duties in the hospital.
For many years he had become increasingly concerned about the nuclear arms race and concerned about the havoc being wrought
on the genetic material of all [ . . . ]. He was concerned that this beautiful world, with all its myriad forms of life,
was being slowly and permanently altered. Mutations of genes were taking place at a rate considerably higher than before
the advent of man-made ionizing radiations. Recognizing that there was a real risk that the unrestrained arms race would
degenerate into a cataclysmic holocaust that could terminate all life on earth, he determined to use the voice given him by
the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to speak loudly and clearly to all who would listen.
In order that he could not be accused of speaking like a dotard, he set himself to understanding the mechanism of creation
of radioactive elements in a nuclear explosion, the injection of the radioactive dust created in atomic explosions into the
upper atmosphere, the patterns of fallout of this radioactive dust, the routes of assimilation of radioactive isotopes into
living tissue, the modes of genetic and somatic damage by high-energy radiation, and the half-lives of the radioactive
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elements. He also set himself to studying the available information about the probable effects of the explosion of megaton
bombs in heavily populated areas in a nuclear war, studies which only a few military men had bothered to make.
On 24 April 1957 Schweitzer dramatically added his name to the growing list of those world leaders who had publicly taken
a position against the continued testing of nuclear weapons. From Radio Oslo in Norway there was issued, and rebroadcast
all over the world, his new famous statement "Peace or Atomic War." This statement, reviewing the discovery of radioactivity
and X-rays at the end of the 19th century and the realization that these rays can damage living tissue, echoed President Eisenhower's
call for a "gigantic leap into peace rather than a leap into space," and called for an end to atomic testing on the
grounds that "We of this generation cannot take responsibility for the consequences of a raised background level of radioactivity
on the generations to come." We muster the insight, the seriousness, and the courage to leave folly and face reality,"
he said; "The end of further experiments with atomic bombs would be likely the early sun rays of hope which suffering
humanity is longing for!"
Two years ago, after six years of uncertainty and after a period of renewed nuclear testing and further contamination of the
atmosphere with radioactive fission products and carbon 14, the bomb-test treaty advocated by Schweitzer was formulated and
then subscribed to by most of the nations of the world. This act has led to the reduction of tensions and to an increased
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hope for the abolition of war and its replacement by world law. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1953 to Albert Schweitzer
was presumably [ . . . ] much on the basis of the reference of Nobel's will to work for fraternity among nations; Schweitzer's
labors since 1952 provide the additional justification of effective work toward the abolition of standing armies. One of
his last acts one month before his death, was to join seven other recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in issuing an appeal
to all the governments and parties concerned in the war in Vietnam to take immediate action to achieve a cease-fire and a
negotiated settlement of the tragic conflict. Albert Schweitzer's
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work for world peace may well be considered by future generations to have been his greatest contribution to humanity.