It is my contention that medicine has become the modern-day substitute for religion.
With the loss of the belief in an afterlife, people have pinned their hopes for life everlasting on the medical profession. And, like true believers of all stripes, they tend to get upset when you ask them for evidence to support their beliefs. I find that even secular, scientifically-minded people are astonishingly prone to magical thinking when it comes to medicine.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. According to these books by Shannon Brownlee and Nortin M. Hadler, M.D., 97% of the cardiac catheterizations and bypass surgeries are unnecessary. Every year, thousands of people are killed, and tens of thousands are left with varying degrees of dementia, by an operation which, according to these authors, is almost always unnecessary. When I pointed this out to an acquaintance (a professor of microbiology, by the way), he replied, “Wait a minute – I know that bypass surgery helps. My dad had bypass surgery.”
“And what does that prove,” I asked him, “Other than that your dad had bypass surgery, and survived it?” In fact, unless his dad was one of the three percent or so with left main disease, he almost certainly would have done as well or better with noninvasive treatment.
Here’s another anecdote: at the aikido school where I trained for a number of years, there was a young man, about 25 years old, built like a Pac-10 linebacker. One night he asked me for a ride home, and I said Sure. On the way home, by way I making conversation, I asked him, “So what do you do?”
“Well,” he replied, “I don’t do anything, because of my illness.”
“Really?” I asked. “What is your illness?” even though I knew perfectly well what was coming next.
He did not disappoint me. “Depression,” he said.
Now, this is a fellow who looked like he could lift up the front end of your car and hold it there while you changed the tire. He’s well enough to practice aikido, but he’s not well enough to hold down a job. That is – literally – infantile. (Mommy, I’m too sick to go to school – but I’m not too sick to play on the swings.) There has got to be any number of guys in their fifties or sixties who have bad knees or bad backs or bad kidneys or bad hearts – or all of the above – who get their asses out of bed every morning and go to work so they can pay for this chap to sit at home and be depressed. This would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
And yet, I almost don’t blame him. In this society, we put physicians on a pedestal, several steps above God. Didn’t a DOCTOR tell him he was depressed? And, he took the pills he was prescribed, and he still felt depressed. What more do you want from him?
He stopped showing up soon after that. About five years later, he came back, briefly, and by then, this fellow who once looked like Adonis was now as fat as a hippo. Well, what did you expect? After all, he’s depressed.
The fact is, we have allowed ourselves to be infantilized to a fantastic degree by the medical profession. We live in a society in which cutting open a child’s abdominal cavity and rearranging his digestive tract is considered normal, and expecting an individual to exercise the minimum self-control to be a functional human being is considered, well, crazy. This once-great nation has turned into a freak show – cf. the Octo-Mom, the Half-Ton Dad, etc. etc. Nowadays the most grotesque personal dysfunction is swept up into the orbit of the normal. We’ve thrown out old-fashioned concepts like sloth and gluttony. The only sin anymore is being “judgemental,” and as long as an individual submits to the ministrations of the medical profession, nobody else has any business criticizing him. Where will it all end?
I’ll tell you where it will end. Check out this article by Len Doyal, Professor Emeritus of Bioethics at the University of London, who argues that doctors should have the right to kill us when they judge we have outlived our usefulness. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons