The latest issue of Wired includes an article on the threat to soldiers wounded in Iraq from acinetobacter, “an opportunistic pathogen” they’re picking up along the evacuation chain from the battlefield. While reading the article, I stopped on an interesting question not related to the subject. First, the facts:
A homemade bomb exploded under a Humvee in Anbar province, Iraq, on August 21, 2004. The blast flipped the vehicle into the air, killing two US marines and wounding another – a soft-spoken 20-year-old named Jonathan Gadsden who was near the end of his second tour of duty. In previous wars, he would have died within hours. His skull and ribs were fractured, his neck was broken, his back was badly burned, and his stomach had been perforated by shrapnel and debris.
Unfortunately, Mr. Gadsden died from the undiagnosed infection that resulted from his wounds. It’s tragic, and the implication of uncontrollable infections is scary. The article is worth reading to get the full understanding. But this is what got me thinking:
[Gadsden’s mother Zeada] discovered that an autopsy was performed shortly after her son’s death. The coroner recorded the “manner of death” as “homicide (explosion during war operation)” but determined the actual cause of death to be a bacterial infection. The organism that killed Gadsden, called Nocardia, had clogged the blood vessels leading to his brain. But the acinetobacter had been steadily draining his vital resources when he could least afford it. For weeks, it had been flourishing in his body, undetected by the doctors at Haley, resisting a constant assault by the most potent antibiotics in the medical arsenal.
I stopped at “homicide (explosion during war operation)” because I’d never thought of how a military death would be classified. Thinking in these terms could open a can of worms that I’m not trying to open. I’m intellectually curious about this designation and uninterested in the political implications. I don’t imagine we’d find too many who would challenge “homicide (explosion during war operation” for a situation like the one that led to Mr. Gadsden’s death, but both sides think they’re the “good guys”. How would another army’s autopsy rule on the death of its soldiers? Would we question if it ruled the same manner of death, because that would imply that we’re murderers?
I don’t have any answers on what our response should be. I haven’t thought of it before, and I suspect most simply wouldn’t care. I don’t know that the distinction even matters for either side, but I found the question interesting.