What role do Eastern religious traditions play in modern medicine?
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1. What role do Eastern religious traditions play in modern medicine?
The following article, "Science, Faith, and Alternative Medicine", written by Ronald W. Dworkin provides an indepth look at the relationships between 'old' eastern religious traditions and modern medicine and science. I think that you will find all you need to know and more in this article.
Years ago, people wore garlic around their necks to protect their health. There may have been a rational basis for this action: Wearing garlic kept others at a distance, thus decreasing one's exposure to infectious disease. But the people who wore garlic did not know this, and what animated them was more superstition than science.
As a practicing physician, I see a related phenomenon. I see patients who ingest garlic and other herbal products even though the science supporting the efficacy of these remedies is unclear. Ironically, these patients do so in the name of science. My patients would blush at the idea of wearing garlic in the style of a necklace, but when garlic is crushed up, put into capsules, and then swallowed, they are convinced that they are acting scientifically. This eagerness to swallow what others once wore may some day find justification in science. Then again, it may prove to be nothing more than superstition.
Alternative medicine is not a recent phenomenon, and at different times, branches of the movement have enjoyed widespread public support. Homeopathy, for example, was extremely popular in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century. Ancient Chinese medicine has been popular in Asia for over 2,000 years. What today is called alternative medicine covers a wide range of disciplines, most of which are guided by the belief that the human body has more than just a material reality. Supposedly, the human body has an energy to it that can be guided by external manipulation, much the way that matter and tissues are influenced by chemicals and radiation in allopathic medicine. This manipulation of energy harnesses the inner resources of the body to promote healing.
Still, the definition of alternative medicine is just as confusing as the science of alternative medicine. Acupuncture, herbal therapy, and biofeedback are commonly included within that definition, but so also are chiropractic and magnet therapy. The spinal adjustment technique used by chiropractors has been shown in clinical trials to be effective for the treatment of low back pain. Moreover, the theory behind spinal adjustment has links to the biomechanical model of allopathic medicine. On the other hand, not only has magnet therapy failed to show effectiveness in serious clinical trials, its effectiveness might not even be demonstrable within the scientific paradigm governing medicine. Alternative medicine includes some therapies that have proven value and are consistent with modern science, but it also includes other therapies that may have no value at all, and if they did, would challenge the basic assumptions of science.
The confusion surrounding alternative medicine is reflected in the political arena, causing deep divisions within both the liberal and conservative camps. Within the conservative camp, libertarians see any governmental regulation of the alternative medicine movement as a violation of individual freedom. Cultural conservatives, on the other hand, are suspicious of the movement's links to anti-Western multiculturalism. Within the liberal camp, progressives like Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Henry Waxman have pushed for greater regulation of the alternative medicine industry in the spirit of consumer protection. Yet multiculturalists want alternative medicine to flourish unimpeded because they see it as a powerful weapon to use against traditional Western ideas.
Alternative medicine does not fit neatly into either the conservative or the liberal worldview. The conservatives have tax cuts and school vouchers, the liberals have national health insurance and environmentalism ? and almost as if to keep from running afoul of each other, the two camps remain silent on a subject that belongs to neither.
This cannot continue. From 1990 to 1997, the amount of money spent by consumers on alternative medicine increased 45 percent. In 1997, Americans spent over $21 billion on alternative medicine, with almost a third of the U.S. patient population buying products and services in this field. Last year, consumers spent more money for alternative medicine therapies than they spent out-of-pocket in the entire allopathic (mainstream) medical system. Alternative medicine is now large enough to command the attention of legislators and public intellectuals.
What is driving the demand for alternative medicine? Clearly science is not the driving force. Hospitals put alternative medicine clinics on their campuses because marketing surveys reveal intense public interest in the field, not because proven science demands them. Alternative therapies like Ayurvedic medicine, healing touch, and energy medicine may challenge the biomechanical theory of disease that has governed medical science for over a century, but they do not come close to overthrowing it. We are not witnessing a paradigm shift as described by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
Some of the patients popping garlic pills confuse pill-taking with science and endow compounds taken by mouth with the force of science. Much of alternative medicine relies on physical practices that are commonly used in conventional (allopathic) medicine: pill-taking, needle-poking, and the application of heat and pressure. But this does not mean that alternative medicine is somehow closer to science than the wearing of herbal necklaces. People have simply confused these physical modalities with "signs" of science, the way sitting cross-legged with bowed head is wrongly interpreted to be a sign of spiritualism. If this is true, and alternative medicine has gained respect only by copying the ways of science, then science has unwittingly allowed itself to become the basis of the major superstition of our age.
Nor is the medical establishment responsible for alternative medicine's growing popularity. If anything, the medical establishment looks at the phenomenon with restrained anxiety. Many doctors think of alternative medicine as something shady, the way doctors have traditionally viewed homeopathy and chiropractic. While this view is changing ? more than 70 American medical schools now offer courses in alternative medicine ? doctors are still unreconciled to its popularity, and they often adopt an attitude of semi-indulgent contempt.
The explanation for the rise of alternative medicine involves far more than science, politics, or money. Policymakers need to understand this in order to deal sensibly with issues of research, funding, regulation, and licensing that are now starting to appear.
In the past, people found relief for many of their problems in two institutions: the medical profession and organized religion. Doctors and clergymen helped people endure often heavy, joyless lives and kept people from feeling alone in the world. By doing so, doctors and clergymen developed a real bond of affection with their clients. Sometimes the bond of affection took the form of stern counsel for a misdirected life; other times it was composed of nothing more than pleasant conversation or a pat on the back. Either way, doctors and clergymen exerted a powerful effect on people's lives.
Important changes in both the medical profession and organized religion have caused the influence of these two institutions to decline. Many people now see the medical profession as too busy and too science-oriented to care about their everyday troubles, while organized religion seems totally irrelevant and antimodern. As a result, people's lives have been swept outside of their normal channels and scattered among the innumerable disciplines that make up alternative medicine. Alternative medicine lies between the medical profession and organized religion, and so benefits from the decline of both. Life once forced people into the hands of medical science or religion. Now a hybrid is there to receive them.
Medical science without faith
In an era of managed care, doctors keep a firm and unremitting control over their time, their labor, and most important, over their mental and emotional powers. In Maryland, where I practice medicine, the ideal office visit lasts no more than 15 minutes. Doctors keep a tight schedule for two reasons: to maximize reimbursement by seeing as many patients as possible and to husband their strength for the activities of private, nonprofessional life.
In order to get down to business as quickly as possible, doctors put their patients into diagnostic categories, at the very least because insurance companies will not reimburse for care unless a patient has a diagnosis. From there, doctors draw on a variety of algorithms to treat their patients. The result is extremely efficient patient management, though somewhat cookbook.
Doctors apply the right method to every disease the way experienced housekeepers choose the right key for every door. As a result, there is little room for the enigmatic and the mysterious in medical practice. Even psychiatrists rely heavily on classification schemes to treat their patients. Patients who are confused about life, or who suffer from a small crisis of the spirit, find it difficult to talk to doctors about their problems in this hyperrational environment.
Many doctors do not even try to conceal their lack of interest in human relations. They look upon a medical practice confined to the systematic management of physical illness as an ideal of repose. A young doctor told me, "Every day I pray, 'God spare me the interesting case.'" He viewed patients who might try to talk to him about their secret struggles as a source of trouble. They interrupted the brisk flow of patients through his office.
The entrance of women into the medical profession has not changed this trend. Many female physicians resent the fact that patients expect them to be better, more attentive listeners simply because they are women. They shout back that they are no more free to talk to a patient for two hours than male doctors, since their office schedules are just as tight.
The medical profession was not always so narrow in its scope. In the past, physicians gladly talked to patients when asked for advice about life, and in a spirit that is almost incomprehensible today. Doctors would put their instruments aside, assume a more thoughtful mood, and discuss issues with an almost relaxed indifference to any scientific purpose. Their wisdom was not a "treatment," and the sweet but slightly condescending tone of their voices would probably be an insult to today's democratic sensibilities. It suggests a distinguished and urbane person deigning to illuminate the less well-educated ? not the more acceptable notion of a technician empowered solely by his or her narrow scientific skill.
When today's doctors do talk about the problems of life with their patients, they usually have at least one eye on the diagnostic categories of mental illness. Rather than exploring life's issues philosophically, doctors wonder whether a whining patient has a form of depression that needs to be treated with medication. Thus, even the management of emotional trouble becomes rather cookbook. The doctor becomes a skilled tradesman, such as a plumber or electrician ? someone whose work calls for little depth of human understanding.
Patients see this, and they are repelled by it. This is one reason they flock to alternative medicine. While alternative medicine encompasses different treatment modalities, most of these systems have something in common: They do not herd patients into diagnostic categories or cause patients to be managed according to some predetermined algorithm. Each patient is considered unique in alternative medicine, such that if 10 patients present to an acupuncturist with peptic ulcer disease, each one might be treated differently. The theory behind alternative medicine requires providers to listen carefully to patients, to talk to their patients about special feelings and circumstances, since these elements affect treatment. This is true whether a patient complains of a physical condition or simple everyday unhappiness.
Because so much time is spent on each patient in alternative medicine, providers note that it can be hard to make a living in their world, even though they are ...
The impact has Hinduism on modern India's society and the influence of Eastern religions on modern medicine.