Modern Medicine's 'heroic' approach excels where surgery, crisis intervention and acute care are required, but it lags behind when it comes to chronic illness.
The application of a single powerful action, a 'magic bullet', which works so well in the heroic approach causes problems in chronic care because it does not address causes, aiming instead to eradicate symptoms, but in reality only masking or suppressing them. As you can read in MedNews, the wide use of pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs has now been linked to events such as gastrointestinal bleeding, heart attacks and strokes; so much so that many pharmaceuticals have been recalled and drug companies have been found criminally negligent and guilty of outright fraud. Medicine in our era, and in particular chronic care, is dominated by such unfortunate events. The problem here is not just the greed of pharmaceutical corporations but also the desire of Modern Medicine to extend its heroic approach to all forms of illness, including crucially, chronic illness.
Reductionist vs. Holistic Medicine
In Modern Medicine's handling of chronic illness, the problem begins with how a disease is named, or diagnosed. In following the reductionist, non-holistic scheme of Modern Medicine, we come to believe that a symptom can be rightly pronounced a 'disease' and its eradication by whatever means possible would constitute a 'cure'. There is little effort to understand the distressing symptom in the context of overall bodily function, little effort to connect the 'disease' with other 'sub-clinical' symptoms or with possible causes. The 'disease' simply exists in one part/function of the body with no connection to other parts/functions, nor to diet, lifestyle activities, mental/emotional stance, life circumstances and a host of other factors.
The role of the doctor
Patients often come to their doctor with a main complaint, and it is up to the doctor to try to fully understand the symptom/s in a holistic context, and not simply pronounce the symptom as a 'disease' and prescribe 'magic bullets', whether pharmaceutical or herbal. But this takes knowledge, time and effort and if the doctor is not trained in holistic medical thinking, has only 5 minutes to spare and works with medicines having many toxic side-effects then things could get worse rather than improve. Even a well intentioned and compassionate doctor could not do much in such circumstances. The use of a non-holistic diagnostic scheme, as in the case of Modern Medicine leads naturally to non-holistic care. Suppressing the primary symptoms often causes problems in other ways (side-effects). If such an approach is applied long term, as it often is, without an holistic approach which addresses causes and the overall ecology of the person, then 'side-effect' related problems will arise and dominate. These in turn will be pronounced new 'diseases' and more 'magic bullets' will be summoned.
As the diagnosis, so the treatment
Causes aside, different persons diagnosed with the same allopathic disease (e.g. Arthritis, Asthma), but differing in other sub-clinical ways must be treated differently. What looks identical to a reductionist approach looks merely similar to an holistic approach. The reductionist approach sees only the prominent symptom (e.g. joint pains in 'Arthritis'), ignoring other, sub-clinical symptoms seen by an holistic approach. The reductionist approach then focuses its treatment on the prominent symptom, while an holistic approach addresses both the prominent and the subtle. The two diagnostic approaches are different, leading to different therapeutic approaches as well. The holistic approach does not expect a single action focused on only part of the clinical picture to work. In fact, the holistic approach does not even expect full effectiveness unless the causative factors are addressed.
Magic Bullets Revisited
Though a reductionist approach deals in magic bullets, an holistic approach utilizes procedures addressing not just the main symptoms (the allopathic disease name), but also sub-clinical symptoms and causative factors. In order to do this, the holistic system's modeling must have room for assessing sub-clinical symptoms and causative factors; and this is exactly where Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine excel, and consequently their therapeutic approach is multi-faceted, i.e. holistic. Here, treatment will not be limited to a single drug/herb but a combination of preventive, alleviative and proactive therapeutic actions. Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine do not deal in illusory magic bullets, so they will not be found effective if asked to perform this impossible trick... a trick that is impossible in itself. For more on this, see Wellness Podcasts and in particular Holistic Medicine.
For more on the results obtained via a reductionist, 'magic bullet' method continue on to the MedNews links. These news stories have had a wide play in the mass media, and collectively call into question many assumptions commonly held about the state of medicine in our era. Things are changing, and here are some directions which are opening up.
The media sources include CBC - Canada, CTV - Canada, Toronto Star - Canada, BBC - UK, The Guardian - UK, The Independent - UK,
New York Times - US, Washington Post - US, MSNBC - US, Salon.com - US, HuffingtonPost.com - US, Google Video, FreeDocumentries.org
Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption by Marcia Angell, MD
The New York Review of Books - Volume 56, Number 1 · January 15, 2009
"It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine."
Movie: Big Bucks Big Pharma (1hr 08min)
"Big Bucks, Big Pharma" pulls back the curtain on the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry to expose the insidious ways that illness is used, manipulated, and in some instances created, for capital gain. Focusing on the industry's marketing practices, media scholars and health professionals help viewers understand the ways in which direct-to-consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical advertising glamorizes and normalizes the use of prescription medication, and works in tandem with promotion to doctors. Combined, these industry practices shape how both patients and doctors understand and relate to disease and treatment. Ultimately, "Big Bucks, Big Pharma" challenges us to ask important questions about the consequences of relying on a for-profit industry for our health and well-being.