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I'm building a world where a small subset of the population have the ability to induce rapid healing (potentially capable of sealing a large wound in seconds) by encouraging rapid cell growth. However, any fast healing has the potential of creating a long-term disease called "overgrowth", which is literally just cancer and has the same properties. The faster the healing, the greater the chances of overgrowth and the more severe the case will be.

There is no magic cure for overgrowth; further healing just makes it worse. It can be treated with focused death magic, but this has the same drawbacks as radiation therapy in our world (damaging to healthy cells, high potential for later recurrence).

What will be the effects of this form of rapid healing in medicine, warfare, and other aspects of society?

Other details about the setting:

This "magic" in this setting is relatively low-grade; it doesn't outright break the laws of physics and technically works by "communicating" with living cells and altering their behaviors and properties, sort of like genetic engineering on-the-fly. The energy/mass must come from somewhere, generally from food but many bio-mages can "cheat" by rapidly metabolizing nearby living organisms (like plants). Aside from the energy cost, there are no detrimental effects for the healer.

EDIT: To clarify further: Not all healing is dangerous; accelerating natural recovery in a clean hospital setting is virtually harmless. The faster the healing, the more severe the injury, or the more frequent the healing sessions, the more dangerous it becomes. Sealing an otherwise dangerous wound and allowing it to properly heal naturally is usually safe, but becomes more risky if it happens on a regular basis (sort of like x-rays). Completely healing a mortally wounded soldier in the course of combat so that they can continue fighting (as in, standard fantasy RPG healer practice) basically guarantees that they will die slowly and painfully over the next few years - but of course, an army that permits instant-healing soldiers is going to have a major advantage over non-healing ones. It's mainly intended to be a deconstruction of the "White Mage" style of combat support.

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    $\begingroup$ Cancer doesn't spread so fast to heal a wound in a critical time. Spraying stem cells into a wound would do much better. $\endgroup$ – Markus von Broady Mar 6 '16 at 10:28
  • $\begingroup$ The healing isn't cancer, though; cancer is a side effect of healing too fast. Part of the manipulation involves removing the cells' natural inhibitors that stop them from multiplying indefinately, in addition to pumping them full of energy and mass that would allow them to multiply at such a rapid rate. The mass/energy addition stops as soon as the healing stops, but sometimes the inhibitors are not replaced properly. $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Mar 6 '16 at 11:01
  • $\begingroup$ I believe the world is considered at roughly medieval overall tech level, but some extra clarification won't harm. $\endgroup$ – Dallaylaen Mar 6 '16 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ Direct healing can make infection worse if misaimed, since it will increase bacterial multiplication. Most 'proper' healing involves a careful balance of life-giving and life-draining skills. $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Mar 6 '16 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ The tech level is kind of all over the place, the setting is based on ancient Babylonian civilization but there's technology from aliens/angels lying around, some of which has been reverse-engineered by clever humans, but it isn't mass-produced so wars are still mainly fought by footsoldiers and swords. Scientific knowledge is mainly advanced through "magic" (actually a result of alien genetic engineering), leading to some oddities (for example, they know a lot about bacteria, but they call them demons). $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Mar 6 '16 at 14:38
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Most people will fear and misunderstand healing magic.

Joe the farmer sits in his hospital bed. The healing required to fix a torn femoral artery is slight, and the risks of disease correspondingly so, but Joe lies in the bed, dying from blood loss, and refusing to let the white mage touch him. A local healer packs on more herbs and wraps the area in a honey-based poultice, and the mage has no choice but to look on, saddened by the knowledge that this sort of meaningless superstition will likely claim the farmer's life. If only they would learn!

A world with dangerous magic healing is a world in which magic healing will be misunderstood and feared by the majority of the people. Especially in a world like medival Europe, where most people are highly religious and illiterate, the common folk will at best view magical healing as something dangerous and deadly. At worst, they will view it as evil, unnatural, and a tool of the devil. Children with healing powers will be hidden or cast out. Alternately, they may be sent to strict military-run healing academies. For an army, little is of more value than a healer, and any tales of evil will quickly be forgotten by a commander looking to bolster the ranks of his troops.

Healing will heighten the rift between nobility and commoners.

Nobility, of course, will likely know a bit more about healing. In a medieval setting, the nobility are likely to be tightly linked with the military. Noblemen and knights will know of magical healing as being a useful and beneficial, if dangerous, asset on the battlefield. Magical healing will also likely be used without hesitation on useful guards, advisers, and servants who suffer grievous injuries. These are individuals that the local lord has more use for alive than dead, and they'll not be allowed to leave his service just because of some petty superstition or fear of an agonizing, protracted death.

Nobles will also likely know several white mages, and will probably learn from them more of the truth of the benefits and dangers of healing magic. A nobleman, knowing that minor, slow application of healing magic has little danger in it, will likely keep white mages on hand and prudently use their services.

Of course, in the eyes of the common man, this is akin to keeping priests to the Lord of Lies on hand to sacrifice goats for his dark blessing. Nobles who engage in healing magic will likely be viewed with more fear and hatred than most medieval lords otherwise would. Such unnatural continuance of life could well result in violence and revolution if the lord is not careful.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this angle. It is worth mentioning here that the healing talent is a subset of various other biologically-related talents, including things like vampirism and animal shapeshifting. Organic "magic" is usually rather more icky-feeling than the kind that is accompanied by flashy lights and tinkling bells, so it would make sense for common folk to view it with distaste and fear... $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Mar 7 '16 at 17:20
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One scenario:

The big war has grown way out of control, and several powers are desperately struggling to survive. Then:

Most of the soldiers are likely to die within weeks anyway, so quick fixing them to keep them alive to fight must be the major focus, with no consideration for the unlikely possibility that they survive the war.

Conclusion: Even more possibilities are available for a country fighting desperately in a war, meaning that a fight to last man standing scenario is more likely. People are not going to have good memories from that war.

Another scenario: (everyday life)

Living in a country with a decentralized population myself, I see one possibility for emergency treatment. Bad accidents could happen in pretty remote location, and if the wounds are serious enough, you do not have the time to transport them to the hospital. Time is a limiting factor.

Being a mage on the site, what can you do? Either let someone die for sure just now, or saving them at the risk of a probable future death. That choice is easy.

Conclusion: Whit limited medical equipment an the time running out, a mage is certainly better than nothing. Especially if the wounds would normally not be survivable.

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This healing method would be popular for:

1- Militants on suicide missions. You are going to die soon anyway, why not make as much of an impact as you can?

2- Patients in terminal stages of their sickness (not resulted from previous fast healing).

3- Adventurists and fanatics.

4- A means of first aid where immediate medical help is not readily available.

5- Scientists and doctors searching for quick, non-invasive methods of healing.

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In cases where the patient would die otherwise from the wound, then absent considerations of cost to administer, it's a no-brainer -- alive now but dead prematurely later is still better than dead now. The interesting cases come where the damage is severe but not life-threatening, such as cases where absent this treatment people would face amputations, brain damage, and other significant losses of function.

In that situation, as today, some will say "save me from this at any cost" (or even "I'd rather die than live with this"), and some will accept living with an impairment in order to live longer and avoid the future pain from the overgrowth. Governments might become involved too, just as, today in the US, the government bars access to experimental drugs (because "experimental") even if patients would accept the risks. How much this happens in your society will depend on how strong social moral pressures are already; if the dominant religion holds fast-healing to be unnatural and not part of the divine plan, for instance, expect it to be barred. On the other hand, if your society is more utilitarian, allowing people to make their own choices more of the time, then this won't be a strong factor.

But, all that aside, there is an economic component. You said that the ability to administer fast-healing is rare, so that scarcity creates a demand. The military will set priorities for how those medics are deployed, with two competing goals: the medic is valuable, but his ability is most valuable in a "patch 'em up and send 'em back out quickly" meat-grinder where many soldiers are going to die anyway (so who cares about getting overgrowth?). In the rest of society, however, those medics can charge a price for their services so long as they don't saturate the market. If there's only one fast-healer in town, expect him to command a good price. This will mean that not all who would benefit from the service will be able to obtain it.

Finally, if the skill is very rare you can expect there to be pressure on those who are known to have it to use it. Some of those people might instead prefer to be software developers or pilots or teachers or musicians. What this means for people in this situation will depend on how they know they have it, when it manifests, how close-knit your society is, and how strong the sense of altruism is.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of a military that uses healing indiscriminatley; a lot of the idea is to be a deconstruction of the standard combat healing fantasy trope - you see the seemingly invincible soldiers backed up by their white mages during battle, but you don't see that all the survivors are going to spend the rest of their short lives in pain and misery after the fight is over. $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Mar 7 '16 at 6:09
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Effects in medicine : It will be a controversial healing method, something like suicide assessment in hospitals where you need to sign an agreement or a paper that you accept this healing method and that you are fully aware of its drawbacks on your health in the future. It's something the doctor can't decide, only the patient will choose whether to accept it or not.

Effects in warfare : Soldiers are expendables when it comes to winning a battle, so when a soldier falls in a fight he will be healed immediately using this method whether he liked it or not, of course this will enhance the chances of winning the war, but after many years the number of recruits will diminish because people will become afraid, not from death, but from painful death by cancer.

Effects in society : People will mostly riot against this healing method, since many religions forbid suiciding, and this healing method is literally a suicide, so it will not be welcomed by everyone, and society will incriminate every mage who practices this sort of healing (talking about burning mages at the stake).

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  • $\begingroup$ It wouldn't always be suicide, though; using it to enhance or speed up natural healing processes would be mostly safe, with the risk increasing as you accelerate the process. It's only when you get to the level of healing during combat that painful death later becomes a near-certainty. $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Mar 7 '16 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ @IndigoFenix You can't be THAT SAFE when there is a slightly little possibility of getting cancer, even with reassurance. $\endgroup$ – Javert Mar 7 '16 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ Think of it like x-rays at a dentist - the dentist always stands behind a screen because they would otherwise be getting irradiated all day, but the risk is negligable for the patient, who is only getting irradiated once. $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Mar 7 '16 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ @IndigoFenix ONCE !! name me someone who has visited the dentist only once in his life !! it's highly improbable. And what about other illnesses that requires x-rays ? $\endgroup$ – Javert Mar 7 '16 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ They only get irradiated once in a while, I mean. The point is that a little radiation is safe, but frequent or intense radiation is dangerous. Same rules. $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Mar 7 '16 at 16:22
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For emergency treatment the rapid healing can sace a life, and then the patient can move to an environment where the overgrowth is treated. For example if a major wound would be fatal, it is employed onnthe spot. Then the overgrowth may affect the same region treated, so it's surgically re-repaired to cut out the margins and sew up the old fashond way; or watched carefully for the imperfections which can turn benign and those are cut out.

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