Saturday, 27 January 2007

What Medical Advances May Obscure

A possible counterpoint to our book is to say well even if all this is right about psychological influences on health, we'd be much better off devoting our time to finding medical means to prevent its negative effects. For example, in the case reported two posts ago, why not look to block the effects of noradrenalin on the tumour cells rather than using therapy to reduce levels of the hormone? Perhaps we may even hope one day to protect the foetus from the effects of maternal cortisol by pharmaceutical means.

Now surely there something troubling about this? Already in the fourth century BC, Aristotle was pointing out the solution to the second problem, when he advocated in The Politics that one not argue in the presence of pregnant women. Doesn't the path which looks to solve a problem merely by the mitigation of effects rather than by the removal or lessening of the cause seem to miss the point? Would we be happy that a factory pumping out acidic waste into a river, dumps in alkaline solution a mile downstream?

What, then, if medical advances gave the appearance of obviating the need to bring about changes to our mode of living. In the book we discuss how several years ago Dean Ornstein ran a support group for patients who had been through heart bypass surgery. Through meditation and discussion he managed in many cases to have these patients reverse the clogging of their arteries and to increase the blood flow through them. Now this was at a time when it was very common for the surgery to need to be redone after only a few years. Anything which would delay this second surgery would be welcome. Since that time, however, medical advances have meant that such operations do not have to be redone quickly. What do we conclude then? That Ornish-type support groups are no longer desirable? But didn't his successes tell us something rather important about removing the causes of ill health?

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