Healthcare Mentality


What is goal of medicine? To cure, of course! It’s supposed to restore health that has degraded. Does it matter how health is restored? Do the means really justify the ends?

To some, this is a complicated issue. Sometimes it’s a political issue (health care plans versus copay), sometimes it’s economical (whether medicinal marijuana will boost jobs and overall market), and sometimes it’s a spiritual conflict (going to witch-doctors or going to church for prayer). And it’s a cultural issue (surprised?).

Western medicine: a cultural analysis

As always, culture seems to affect everything–even our pursuit of the “right” medicine. Most people in the U.S. don’t realize how Western our clinics really are and that there are other forms of medicine that are also valuable to our health. MD’s obtained their degree in Western medical schools, or are otherwise not recognized as valid. In the U.S. and Europe, MD’s have the highest standing in medicine, and all other forms are almost considered imitation, fraudulent, mythical, or evil. Yet actually, many of these other forms of medicine have existed for millennia longer than the relatively recent scientific methods, that have become standardized until around the 18th century during the late modernity phase (at least roughly around that time). It has become so widely accepted since then that the government health care reform and basic health care plans are limited to licensed physicians and clinics.

Western medicine (biomedical) is really about the science. Every prescription drug is tested in a lab to determine if it works. There is extensive research behind finding cures for diseases and the elements in prescripted and most over-the-counter drugs are often manufactured with chemical components. Western medicine, like Western thought, has a vertical alignment: it’s about control and mastery of the disease. The scientific method we use today is mechanistic and limited to what can be seen and tested. What we don’t see and don’t know by facts or tests frighten us; our trust in medicine is in the statistics.

Yet despite our general fear of natural medicine (such as naturopathology) there is a growing trend for yoga, acupuncture, and organic herbs and foods–all of which are ancient Eastern remedies. This may be because testing and statistical analysis gives a positive report on these health methods. (Alternatively, the testing and statistics that show common household products and food as harmful is not always accepted.)

A look at natural medicine

Natural medicine really stems from the humoral theory, which assumes that the balance of the “four humors” is a healthy state, and when one humor is deficient it indicates illness. Natural medicine is also based on natural interactions and is more horizontal in its relationships. For example, earth, wind, water, and fire are all equal in nature and without harmony, this also affects people and life. In this case, all aspects of life are considered to affect health either positively or negatively. Unlike Western medicine, it has no sense of “ego” or “I” as something that should begiven priority or authority over matter. One thing affects the other, in a way. The earth supplies natural remedies when things are ill: ginseng, for example, is known as the “cure-all” by the Chinese. Although to the West, this is almost laughable, but to the Chinese, it has apparently worked to some degree, as it has remained in their traditional medicine for a very long time.

Personalistic Stystems

The most over-looked form of healing is probably the spiritual, which to many people, has no linkage to the flesh whatsoever. How could the spiritual realm reach into the physical? Ever since the Age of Reason and Enlightenment Era, the supernatural has mostly been left out of the equation. It rejected anything to do with spirituality and thereafter has been heavy focus on science. Anything that is superstitious, magical, or religious falls into the excluded category for healing. Even the word healing itself is often associated with spiritual methods. Yet should the West reject the spiritual for help in wellness as we typically do with natural remedies that we are once again learning may actually help? The problem with spiritual assistance is that it requires a submission of control. For many people, this is too much to give up; it’s one thing to extend to the suggestions of natural health teachings, but another to rest the power in the supernatural.

When I was in Uganda, my host mother explained to me that when a person is ill it is because they are spiritually ill. The two are hand in hand. Balance. What is so wrong or scary about seeking that? Yet when natural remedies like ginseng are nearly made fun of, how much more is calling after a spiritual being? Unfortunately, anything like this is seen as  primitive–as something illogical. Although the West is considered going into post-modern era, Western epistemology is still immersed in the Age of Reason.

Politics, economics, religion and culture do affect our decision making with health care. Whatever medical theory we subscribe to, it is impossible to separate from worldview.

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