Friday, October 12, 2007

Heresy in Medicine

The dogmatic medical establishment in Stewards of the Flame is assumed to be monolithic, with no deviance from the official view on any health issue except on the part of the protagonists -- several of whom are doctors -- who reject it in its entirety. In our own much larger and more heterogeneous society, where supposedly freedom of opinion prevails, there is much less uniformity of opinion, right? Wrong! Yes, there is controversy about the details of effective treatment, but very little on the major issues. Doctors are free to express differing views and a few of them do, but for the most part nobody listens, at least nobody who counts as far as determining what is likely to happen to the average patient is concerned.

There is, to be sure, wide attention given to complementary medicine (which is used along with conventional medicine) and alternative medicine (which is used in place of it). A recent survey showed that 36 percent of adult Americans use some form of one or the other. These are considered heretical by the medical establishment, which has succeeded in getting them excluded by law from the recognition and financial benefits accorded to medical practitioners by the government. However, they are not what I mean here by the word. I don't include them in my discussion because I personally don't think they have any healing effect apart from activating the self-healing powers of the mind in people who believe literally in the metaphorical explanations they offer for their success. That, of course, is no small achievement, and I certainly support people's right to have access to such practices without government interference. But I don't use them myself.

The difficulty is that it is very hard to find material that's critical of conventional medicine that doesn't also promote alternative medicine of one kind or another. There are many books and innumerable Web pages that challenge prevailing views of orthodox treatment, but they turn out to argue for herbal remedies, nutritional supplements, and so forth -- in many cases they are actually selling them, which is a case of the pot calling the kettle black when they complain about the pharmaceutical companies' motives for promoting prescription drugs. Few if any writers are willing to declare that "standard" medicine often does more harm than good without offering some alternate cure. In the case of the books, this is understandable, because ordinarily publishers don't issue such books; they don't sell well. The public wants to be told how to preserve, or regain, health. Doctors want to treat people; they couldn't go on practicing if they lost faith in treatment's effectiveness. I myself -- and I think many other individuals who avoid the health care system -- believe that it is better to do nothing about a health problem than to do the wrong thing. This is definitely a minority view, and is rarely expressed.

I go to doctors only when I have a serious illness for which there is an effective treatment. This has happened several times in the past and I have received excellent care; I don't doubt the skill and dedication of those who provided it. Recently (since writing the book) I have developed a condition for which there is some medication that's the lesser of evils, and other medication and procedures that in my opinion are not, and which I have therefore refused, resulting in an endless succession of arguments with various doctors who assumed I was either stupid or uninformed. Admittedly, I can't talk as well as I write, and I look like a typical senior citizen who's indeed uninformed, so I've tried not to take this patronizing attitude personally. I know that these doctors meant well. It's frustrating, however, to deal with a system in which the average physician is not even aware of any position but the one adopted as "standard" -- either is afraid of being sued for not adhering to it, or hasn't had time to investigate the published challenges by qualified medical professionals that do exist.

For a long list of books by medical professionals and investigative journalists that challenge medical dogma, visit

1 comment:

sarah said...

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