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The Boy in the Bubble

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2015

Retro Report looks back on the story of the boy in the plastic bubble.

The epitaph on David Phillip Vetter’s gravestone observes correctly that “he never touched the world.” How could he have? From a few seconds after his birth until two weeks before his death at age 12, David lived life entirely in one plastic bubble or another. Touching the world would have killed him in fairly short order. Even his two weeks outside a plastic cocoon were spent in a hospital trying, futilely, to stave off the inevitable.

There was never a child quite like David Vetter. Americans above the age of, say, 45 may remember him not so much by name as by a phenomenon of the 1970s and early ’80s: “the boy in the bubble.” The Retro Report series of video documentaries, exploring major news developments of the past, returns to that era through interviews with, among others, David’s mother and one of his doctors. More than just a look backward, the report examines medical strides that now give hope to the once-hopeless, coupled with ethical questions long part of the “bubble boy” story.

I remember very clearly watching the news reports about “the boy in the bubble” when I was a kid. Now, as an adult and a parent, the ethical concerns hit me somewhat harder. (via @DavidGrann)