Book Review: Noble Vision
Written in 2005, Gen LaGreca’s debut novel, Noble Vision, is both a boldly inspiring tale, and a stark warning of what the future of medicine in the United States may hold.
This Objectivist novel follows brilliant neurosurgeon David Lang who, after 7 years of heartbreaking work, finally believes he has discovered a process to regrow damaged nerve tissue. This procedure could allow paralyzed patients to walk again, blinded people to see, and might also cure hosts of other neurological diseases. Unfortunately, Dr. Lang practices medicine in the state of New York, which has just passed a landmark healthcare-reform bill called “CareFree.”
CareFree intimately resembles Massachusetts’ RomneyCare, as well as its close cousin, ObamaCare, in its socializing and centralization of medical costs and decisions. In an effort to control its already skyrocketing prices, the Bureau of Medicine, which oversees CareFree, refuses to allow Dr. Lang to continue his research, citing the low numbers of people it would help (as opposed to say, providing contact lenses to the thousands needing better vision). To add insult to injury, because of animal experimentation concerns he is forbidden even to continue the research with his own money.
But when a beautiful ballerina, whose shows David has been attending in secret for years, falls victim to a tragic accident that leaves her blind, the doctor must choose between obeying the law and saving her vision. When he chooses the latter the stage is set for the inevitable clash between him and the vast bureaucracy of the State’s healthcare system.
It is this conflict–at root a philosophical one–which gives the story of Noble Vision its life and its engaging amount of tension and drama. What, in the end, is better for human flourishing: the freedom to set one’s own prices and conditions for work, or the control of those prices and work by a large central bureaucracy? While current debates about healthcare are often couched in the language of economics (“we need to reduce healthcare costs and allow the uninsured to receive adequate medical care”) they rarely drill down to the underlying ethics involved.
This Ms. LaGreca does admirably, clearly presenting the basic moral principles at work in the minds of her protagonists and antagonists. Such a principle is well-illustrated in the following exchange between Dr. Lang and a state bureaucrat:
“If I’m not permitted to finance my own experiment, then my patient will gladly pay her own medical bills to keep the surgery out of the purview of CareFree.”
“She can’t pay! That’s against the law. If we let patients pay with their own money, then we’d be back to the old corrupt system where only those who can afford it get treatment.”
“You mean it’s corrupt to pay for the services of others but right to expect them for nothing?”
While the writing is at times clunky–for instance David’s secret-admirer letters to Nicole are wince-worthy–on the whole the story moves along at a rapid clip, losing little time in boring exposition or scenes which do not further the plot. In fact, I devoured the whole affair in two days, staying up late the second night to reach the conclusion of Ms. LaGreca’s work.
Noble Vision has been called “the Fountainhead of Medicine” and if you liked Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead there’s plenty to enjoy here. Both chronicle the vicious struggle between a principled individual who insists on living life on his own terms and a formless collective intent on denying him the freedom to do so. Both authors share the same philosophy and the same reverence for the human spirit, liberty and capitalism. At times one can see shades of Rand’s writing style in LaGreca’s (I’m thinking particularly of the rapid-fire exchanges between coldly rational David Lang and the simpering, often tyrannical bureaucrats who seek to restrain him). Even the title of LaGreca’s book is a respectful nod to a line from The Fountainhead that reads, “Whatever their future, at the dawn of their lives, men seek a noble vision of man’s nature and of life’s potential.”
On the whole, I would highly recommend Noble Vision to anyone interested in personal liberty, the role of the state in medicine, or just a well-plotted drama that will keep you on the edge of your seat.