Saturday, May 12, 2012


A true green holistic revolution in medicine will not be possible until orthodoxy redefines professionalism to mean the practice of one's science and art to the best of one's ability with honesty, unselfishness, and integrity. Professionalism should not mean that medicine is to be practiced to the exclusion of outside influences. It should not become a prison that stifles originality and creativity. It should mean that medicine will always seek, and remain open to, better ways of serving humanity.

As it stands, the closest thing that we have to a holistic medical profession is the field of naturopathy. The training of naturopathic physicians covers a wide range of alternative and natural therapies, but there is one significant restricting condition placed upon their licensure -- they cannot prescribe pharmaceutical drugs or perform conventional surgeries. On the other side of the fence, orthodox medicine grudgingly allows the rare token of holism into its domain, as when recently it accepted glucosamine and chondroitin as viable anti-arthritic therapies. Conventional medicine must  dispense with the pretense of giving fair consideration to alternative therapies while judging them according to impossible standards. Licorice, for example, should not be judged based upon its applicability to treating cancer patients. Whether or not licorice is a useful measure in dealing with indigestion should be sufficient standard to judge its therapeutic value. Making alternative therapies jump over such unrealistic hurdles creates a neat and convenient divide that separates conventional from holistic doctors.

While, admittedly, there is a smattering of daring individuals determined to overcome this false dichotomy, the wide gulf between orthodoxy and holism remains the normative reality. As long as there are two separate systems, health care will remain inadequate and will tend to fall short of the ideal. If conventional medicine is ever to heal itself of its fragmented state, it must first acknowledge its brokenness and admit that it needs to transcend its rigid and limited conception of what constitutes desirable and viable therapies. "Treatment of the whole person" must become more than just a corporate slogan or marketing gimmick.

Likewise, the maverick of alternative medicine can also, at times, be a little narrow-minded, sometimes eschewing all pharmaceutical options. "Natural" does not necessarily equate to "superior," and not infrequently, a conventional drug or surgery is the best plan of action. On the other hand, practitioners of the healing arts must resist allowing their arts to be made over into sciences out of the overwhelming desire to seek "respectability." We already see this trend, as some holistic practitioners promote their therapies with questionable scientific rationales. Some areas of  knowledge are well suited to scientific investigation, while others are not. Some things, especially in the realm of healing, will always retain a sense of mystery, and are best appreciated in their natural state. Spiritual and energetic forces, when subjected to the parameters of clinicians and their mechanistic bias, often lose their power to heal. The standard should not be whether a therapy can be dissected and understood by the rational mind, but  whether it is of true benefit to the sick, pain and the suffering. Scientific 'prof" should be of secondary concern, especially when a therapy demonstrates efficacy in clinical practice.

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