Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Are We at the Tipping Point with Health Care?

Not so very long ago, it was simply assumed that your doctor knew even better than you did what is best for your health, that pills and surgery were the best option to fix your medical problems, and that anything approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was government approved and therefore obviously safe for people to consume. Now these old assumptions are coming under closer scrutiny, and more often than not, they come up wanting. What’s going on?

For a really good summary of many facets of this issue, take a look at the excellent documentary film Doctored, written and directed by Bobby Sheehan and released this year. The trailer:

At the moment, Dr Mercola is offering a free link to the entire film here. Although ostensibly about the conflict between chiropractic and orthodox (i.e., go see your properly-trained medical doctor, not some quack) health care, the film really profiles the battle between the medical behemoth that has become the leading industry in the world (if you include as part of that package pharmaceuticals, primary care, medical insurance, etc.) and “alternative” health care practitioners in general. It’s a modern David and Goliath story.

Our modern world is driven by economics, and most orthodox medicine today is underlined by monetary motives. Basic marketing means identifying/finding/creating your markets and customers, creating products, and selling as much of your product as you possibly can to as many people as possible for the highest possible price and for as long as possible. It’s easy to see how this model is used, for example, in the pharmaceutical industry. Drug companies create a condition and a market, offer a potion to “treat” that condition, charge as much as they can for the drugs (and by running that through a third party, your insurer, they know you won’t be counting your pennies to see if you can afford it or looking elsewhere for a better deal). Then they encourage doctors to have their patients stay on the treatment for as long as possible, ideally indefinitely (think hypertension drugs, statins, anti-depressants). In short, there’s little in the way of “cure” offered by drug companies for chronic conditions, just ongoing maintenance at an ongoing cost, which is really good for business. Sweet as.

One of the hottest cash cows at the moment is the vaccine industry. In spite of numerous studies suggesting that flu vaccines, for example, are of little real value and come with some [small] risk of complications[i], if manufacturers can convince large segments of the population (and their governments and insurance companies) that they really need to get a yearly jab, it keeps the money flowing in. The HPV vaccine (Gardisil) is another one, being pushed hard onto the rapidly-expanding youth market—mostly aimed at girls, but now boys as well—in spite of growing concerns about its safety[ii].

Crossing my desk this morning is an article that typifies the pharmaceutical company money-gouging case in point: When physicians at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York stood up and said “no” to paying over US$11,000/month for the new cancer drug Zaltrap, pharmaceutical company Sanofi offered to cut the price by half. See the story here.

It’s easy to become cynical.  It’s not that orthodox medicine doesn’t have a place. For emergency treatment and acute conditions, it usually offers the most effective treatment option by far. But for long-term, chronic conditions where the best orthodox medicine can offer is “I don’t know, try this” or “let’s increase your meds and see if that helps,” then alternative medicine offers other avenues of treatment that are often not only significantly more effective and less harmful than vague druggery, but sometimes offer surprisingly outright cures.

Most alternative health modalities are “natural” approaches to health that don’t involve the ingestion of unnatural chemicals or invasive cutting of tissues, so they are less likely to have a downside than orthodox medical care. They are based on the concept that good health is natural, provided we take proper care of our bodies, and that illness is a sign that something (physically, energetically, emotionally, sometimes spiritually) is out of balance. Approaches to achieving that balance vary, of course, with the practitioner. A chiropractor, for example, is likely to focus on spinal alignment, alleviating everything from chronic back pain to frozen shoulder, and sometimes conditions such as chronic fatigue and MS, without the use of drugs (see the aforementioned film Doctored). Other alternative health practitioners may specialise in body energy work, or assist with lifestyle changes, or facilitate the resolution of troubling emotional or spiritual issues. All things are connected. See my reviews of The Living Matrix and The Cure Is..., two other recent documentary films that examine a variety of alternative approaches to health and the new science that backs them up. (Doctored also looks at a great deal more than just chiropractic, including an excellent segment on the extraordinary alternative cancer treatment offered by Stanislaw Burzynski[iii].)

Ultimately, it falls on each of us individually to take responsibility for our own healthcare. If you seek treatment for a chronic condition from anyone, orthodox or not, I believe it is worthwhile to keep an open mind and do your own research so you can make intelligent decisions about your own health rather than delegating that responsibility to others and letting them make those decisions for you.

Times, they are a’changin. More and more people are beginning to recognize that much of orthodox health care is based more on an underlying fiscal foundation than it is on a genuine desire to improve our health and well-being; that the FDA  don’t always have our best interests at heart (not only re: pharmaceuticals but also GMOs); and that throwing more money at the problem or taking more pills isn’t the ideal route to better health care. At one point in Doctored, the observation is made that starting with a non-invasive natural therapy to relieve dis-ease rather than relegating it to a "last resort" option when all else has failed seems reasonable. 

Whether we have reached a tipping point yet remains to be seen, but I think we are on the edge—to use another cliché—of a healthcare watershed.

[ii] I haven’t done a bog entry on Gardisil, but here’s a starter if you’re interested in that theme: medical professionals in Spain are calling for a moratorium on the vaccine, and several deaths have been linked to the drug, caused by fatal auto-immune responses.  Read more here.
[iii] And if you are interested in the extraordinary Burzynski story, see the documentary film on him and the battle to have his antineoplastin treatment "officially" accepted here.

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