Remembering the great Lawrence D. Dorr, MD
It was around the second or third grade, and I was lamenting to my friend Randy Dorr that I hadn’t seen my dad much in the previous week due to travel, and late nights at work. He worked so much. Randy responded that what I described was the norm of sorts for him. His father was seemingly always working late.
Dr. Lawrence D. Dorr was an orthopedic surgeon, and a great one. His hours when we were kids were endless, but not in a bad way. George Will comes to mind when thinking about Dorr. When Will published his classic book on baseball, Men at Work, he noted in the introduction that the writing of the book was “not done by a man at work. Nothing that was so much fun should count as work.” Dr. Dorr’s profession similarly lifted him. His hours were seemingly “bad” because he couldn’t get enough of what he did. They were already saying in the 1970s that he was the best in his field, which meant the work had a joyous quality to it. Dorr was doing what he couldn’t not do.
Dr. Dorr passed away on Sunday night, which means the world lost arguably the most prominent hip surgeon in it.
Dr. Dorr was unequal. This was true in terms of his finances. Figure that he’d designed an artificial hip used around the world. Dr. Dorr was also unequal in terms of talent. He was once again the best in his field. And thank goodness for that.
Dorr’s inequality relative to others has long been a reminder of how bleak the world would be without the unequal. Dorr’s genius as a surgeon, and as a creator of artificial joints, meant that countless people were walking who otherwise wouldn’t be. Of course, it doesn’t stop there. It rarely does with the talented.
Dorr’s enormous financial success meant that he had the means to help those who had nothing. Dorr was the founder of Operation Walk, an organization that provided the gift of mobility to those who lacked it, and who absent Dorr’s generosity with his money and his skills, would have spent the rest of their days immobile. Dorr was a living, breathing rejection of all the thumb-sucking within the intellectual class about the alleged horrors of inequality. Dorr showed on a daily basis just how compassionate outsized achievement is.
Notable is that Dorr didn’t rest on his substantial laurels. While some would say his professional and charitable successes were more than enough for one man, it’s arguable that the drive that made Dorr the best at what he did made it impossible for this relentless doer to stop doing. In Dorr’s case, he started writing books.
His writing took place early in the morning and late at night. When else would he do it? He was still an active surgeon bringing movement to those who were involuntarily stationary. The main thing is that Dorr made the time to write essential books in his spare time.
Most important to me, he published Die Once Live Twice in 2011. Though it’s a fiction novel, it’s an essential medical history. Dorr’s story of how medicine evolved showed how cheap life used to be before economic growth freed more and more great minds to devote their lives to medical science. Dorr’s writing for the layman brought to life how medical advances would make it possible for individuals to “live twice” thanks to cures being developed “for diseases that kill people now.”
Dorr’s excellent book informs just about every speech I give, countless more op-eds, not to mention that Die Once Live Twice essentially wrote Chapter Two of my upcoming book, When Politicians Panicked. Dorr vivified for those with no medical background just how primitive medicine was in the 19th century, and by extension, how common early death was.
Examples abound, but the surgeon who became an author in his spare time informed readers that a broken femur in the Civil War era was likely a death sentence, but even if not, the “operation” for that kind of break was amputation. A broken hip was in fact a death sentence. Cancer? Forget about it. It was going to kill you, but as Dorr explained, even by the early 20th century cancer was still a distant 8th as a killer of Americans since so many other maladies got them first. In Dorr’s words pneumonia, the 2nd most common killer of Americans (tuberculosis was #1) when the 20th century dawned, was “Captain of Men’s Death.” There was no treatment for this indiscriminate murderer. Dorr added that WWI was the first one in which more men died from guns and bombs than from disease.
So what changed? Dorr unabashedly informed his readers that money is what changed things. Thanks to capitalistic progress, rich men like Johns Hopkins could donate enormous sums to colleges and universities that would then match the funds with scientifically enterprising minds. Wealth creation would make medical and scientific leaps possible on the way to cures of that which used to kill us. Die Once Live Twice became a reality thanks to achievement away from medicine.
In short, Dorr’s book revealed unequivocally that economic growth is the biggest enemy of death. By far. And while I never got to discuss the global political panic over the coronavirus with Dorr, I already knew that he thought. I’d read him carefully! It had to have horrified this innovative thinker that nail-biting politicians chose to fight a virus with forced economic contraction. What could they have been thinking? Needless to say, Dorr brought essential clarity at a time when there was fog. Dorr made plain that “a few brilliant men” matched with wealth were responsible for medical breakthroughs, but when the coronavirus revealed itself, inept politicians chose to suffocate the wealth part.
Dorr concluded in Die Once Live Twice that the “great figures have different minds from the rest of us.” So true. Dorr was one of the greats, and his restless, brilliant, compassionate mind surely made the world a much better place. It’s poorer now that he has left it.John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Vice President at FreedomWorks, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading (www.trtadvisors.com). His next book, set for release in March of 2021, is titled When Politicians Panicked: The New Coronavirus, Expert Opinion, and a Tragic Lapse of Reason. Other books by Tamny include They’re Both Wrong: A Policy Guide for America’s Frustrated Independent Thinkers, The End of Work, about the exciting growth of jobs more and more of us love, Who Needs the Fed? and Popular Economics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Related Topics: John Tamny, Obituaries