In Operation Wormwood by Helen C. Escott there is the terrifying specter of a devastating new disease that affects only pedophiles. It cruelly torments them with frequent nosebleeds, uncontrollable thirst and severe pain. There is no cure and they suffer agonizing deaths.
Doctors cannot identify a cause or method of transmission. They can do no more than alleviate the symptoms. With all the means of modern medicine it is a mystery causing many in the public to think it is a divine punishment, a sign from God, and the condition is called Wormwood referring to the Biblical prophecies from Revelation of being washed in the blood of the lamb.
I was reminded of how AIDS was “discovered” in the early 1980’s. While I was representing a group of hemophiliacs before the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Canadian Blood System during the mid-1990’s the Commission heard evidence on the origins of this modern plague.
Dr. Charlie Francis from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States, one of the lead researchers on AIDS, provided riveting testimony of the investigation.
As with Wormwood the symptoms of AIDS were initially connected to a specific group. For AIDS it was homosexual men. Growing numbers of gay men, especially in San Francisco and New York, were noted in the early 1980’s to be suffering rare medical problems such as Kaposi’s Sarcoma, best known for its purplish blotches.
While Escott’s book did not seek to identify a first patient there was an attempt with AIDS. A male Canadian flight attendant became known as Patient Zero. Though the designation was not correct he was among the earliest identified.
There was some brief public speculation whether it could be a condition that only affected gay men.
There was some sense at the time that medicine had identified the diseases of the world and that there could not be a devastating disease that had not been discovered. That belief was clearly wrong. A book written in the mid-1990’s called The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett frightened me. It convincingly set out there are diseases to be “discovered” in regions such as West Africa.
Public fear was intense and there were religious figures who saw AIDS as a punishment from God. They could not reconcile how it affected gay men but only rarely lesbian women. Such a distinction was an early indicator that AIDS was not a punishment from God but likely blood borne and sexually transmissible.
Soon reports came to Dr. Francis and his colleague of the symptoms being found in hemophiliacs and then Haitian people including women. When the symptoms were found in a newborn they were confident, though no virus had been found, that it was a disease like Hepatitis B transmitted through blood.
Escott’s book touches upon the fear of hemophiliacs that they would be considered pedophiles because of their bleeding issues.
In the early 1980’s hemophiliacs justly feared ostracization because of AIDS. I had a client receiving treatment in hospital where staff were reluctant to take food trays into his room.
The association of AIDS with gay men prompted some hemophiliacs to be resentful and be prejudiced. For years those hemophiliacs believed that infected gay men giving blood were the leading cause of blood and blood products being contaminated with AIDS.
One of the most powerful personal moments at the hearings of the Royal Commission came when a hemophiliac leader of the group I represented, having observed witnesses and read documents, realized that gay men, with little help from public health authorities, had sought to minimize the donations of blood from gay men who might be infected and worked hard to spread the word of the risks of transmission of AIDS. He went up to a lawyer, a lesbian, representing the Canadian Aids Society and apologized to her for his prejudiced views and said that he had changed. She was overwhelmed with emotion.
Escott’s book is tantalizing in that, unlike AIDS, the condition Wormwood is never identified in any group of people beyond pedophiles and no method of transmission is ever found. Those continuing facts reinforce the belief it is a punishment from God. In my last post I set out my conviction that God is not so arbitrary as to single out a single class of sinners for such retribution.
In the book people flock back to the Catholic Church because of this sign that God exists and does intervene in this world. There was no increase in faith when AIDS was discovered. While the return to faith is a vivid story line I doubt faith would increase in real life if a new disease was asserted to come from God.
It would have added an intriguing complexity to the book if Escott had explored whether the death penalty, for all those afflicted with Wormwood die, is an appropriate punishment for pedophiles.
In Operation Wormwood it is indicated the condition would also affect those who view and share child pornography.
Western society has evolved concerning the death penalty. As late as the mid-1900’s the death penalty was applied to such crimes as rape. Now, where the death penalty remains in effect it will not be imposed except for murder.
Catholic Church doctrine rejects the death penalty. Escott did not discuss whether the powerful exhortation of Father Cooke that Wormwood is a punishment from God aligns with Church’s doctrine.
I believe it remains probable that a new communicable disease will come out of Africa. If I am correct I am certain some religious figures will again call it a sign from God and demonize the afflicted.