The Limits of Pathology
“When we couldn’t help a patient anymore and we had got as much money as we could from them, we would send them to Switzerland. We’d tell them they needed a change of climate!”
The tongue-in-cheek comment above by a former Mayo paediatrician (on the treatment of TB patients) now seems innocuous compared to what one commentator calls the age of “do harm medicine.”¹ Recently the Daily Mail published the worrying story “Sex abuse victim in her 20s allowed to choose euthanasia in Holland after doctors decided her post-traumatic stress and other conditions were incurable.” How did medicine come to the point where it can feel justified in killing a client? At what point do doctors and medical professionals decide they should stop helping and start killing? The fact they couldn’t help is an opportunity to explore the reasons for their failure in curing – or even improving a patient’s state of health. Considering medicine can’t cure the common cold, the implication is that every patient now becomes fair game.
This age of “do harm medicine” or “therapeutic nihilism” is the result of having no underlying theory of disease underpinning medicine as a cohesive system. without an overall systematic model of disease, it’s impossible to know where treatment should lead. It’s important to ask: what do we want drugs to do – quick relief, suppress symptoms or cure?
Pathology and Disease
Pathology is the reductionist way of reducing disease to a few symptoms for which doctors have a convenient list of a few drugs, making prescribing easy.
Disease does not fit neat pathology labels. For example, there’s more to diabetes than insulin replacement. Insulin might solve the blood sugar levels but it won’t solve the related symptoms of diabetes.
People do feel dis-eased, unwell, but unless they fit a pathology description, which the frequently do not, medicine is at a loss. How then to treat?
An attitude, a lifestyle a pattern of relating can be pathological, yet we can’t rely on a doctor to solve these. Herein lies the reason for therapeutic nihilism leading to the convenient get-out-clause; “euthanizing” their patients.
Failure to Cure
The corollary to having a sound rational model of disease is knowing its opposite, hence; what is health? Medicine will talk about a state of health but what does it mean to be in a certain state of health? Medicine needs to have an overall theory of health and disease. Until then, medicine will continue to fail to cure because: treating disease names will never cure; treating an organ or part of the body will never cure; treating a supposed “cause” will never cure and treating everyone the same won’t cure.
Doctor: “It’s your liver.” (i.e. that’s causing the problems)
Patient: “But what caused my liver?”
Medicine needs a holistic approach. The analogy of gardening is appropriate. Treating weeds will never cure the weeds – they just keep returning. It may be a quick relief and make things look pretty but the problem remains.
On the other hand, improve the soil, the environment and the overall conditions and the garden will be healthier and less susceptible to weeds.
Homeopath: Did the physician ask you about the child’s excessively sweaty head?
Mother: No, I did mention it but she said not to worry.
So why treat some symptoms and not others? This means only part of the disease is considered for treatment. It’s not considered a significant symptom for treatment because it isn’t mentioned in the text books, there isn’t a pill for it or the physician can’t explain it.
If the totality of symptoms isn’t removed, the disease in its entirety won’t be removed, rather, they’ll frequently be made worse.
The corollary is true; remove the totality of symptoms and you remove the entire disease (from the inside out, never from the outside in). This is how homeopathy works.
Why treat a disease name? To understand the rise of this reductionist thinking, one has to understand the influence of French physicians Rudolph Virchow who reduced disease to physiology and his student Claude Bernard who reduced disease to the cellular level, both taking a materialistic mechanical view of the body and disease. The history, influence and French-German politicking of their thinking is documented by Harris Coulter in the second volume of his Divided Legacy (or here).
Homeopathy and Pathology
How can a patient say to a homeopath, “you’re asking the right questions”? It’s because a homeopath knows the right questions. Why? Because they have studied disease. How have they studied disease? By studying the effects of medicinal substances on patients (termed provings). This is the only way to understand how disease works – because medicines produce symptoms (albeit an artificial disease) and symptoms are disease. So when a mother says her child has a sweaty head a homeopath has seen it before and can remedy it. So when a patient says I feel restless about midnight, with burning pains in my stomach, a doctor can’t understand it but a homeopath has seen it before in a substance called Arsenic trioxide. Therefore, instead of finding a pathological label, a homeopath could say “you have Arsenic syndrome” or “you have Arsenic-itis” because these are the symptoms you have. A homeopath has a remedy for all this patient’s symptoms in their entirety.
What happens when doctors can’t find a remedy to cure and are too arrogant to admit defeat or are a “liberal” or perhaps lack a professional detachment inhibiting them from admitting their failure after years of study? In the euthanasia case mentioned above, we have now witnessed the nadir of medicine’s limited thinking. Compare, no! contrast this to Hahnemann’s observations in his Organon of Rational Healing (also here):
Organon aphorism §14
There is, in the interior of man, nothing morbid that is curable and no visible morbid alteration that is curable which does not make itself known to the accurately observing physician by means of morbid signs and symptoms—an arrangement in perfect conformity with the infinite goodness of the all-wise Preserver of human life.
Organon aphorism §17
Now, as in the cure effected by the removal of the whole of the perceptible signs and symptoms of the disease the internal alteration of the vital principle to which the disease is due—consequently the whole of the disease —is at the same time removed,(10) it follows that the physician has only to remove the whole of the symptoms in order, at the same time, to abrogate and annihilate the internal change, that is to say, the morbid derangement of the vital force—consequently the totality of the disease, the DISEASE ITSELF.(11) But when the disease is annihilated, health is restored, and this is the highest, the sole aim of the physician who knows the true object of his mission, which consists not in learned-sounding prating, but in giving aid to the sick.
 It is only thus that God, the Preserver of mankind, could reveal His wisdom and goodness in reference to the cure of the diseases to which man is liable here below, by showing to the physician what he had to remove in diseases in order to annihilate them and thus re-establish health. But what would we think of His wisdom and goodness if He had shrouded in mysterious obscurity that which was to be cured in diseases (as is asserted by the dominant school of medicine, which affects to possess a supernatural insight into the inner nature of things), and shut it up in the hidden interior, and thus rendered it impossible for man to know the malady accurately, consequently impossible for him to cure it?
Instead of putting the onus on the patient: “she’s incurable”, “her symptoms were resistant to treatment” – as if their treatment depends on her – the Dutch physicians and medical professionals who failed to help her but instead saw their patient as incurable, and therefore deserving of annihilation, it says a whole lot more about them and the medicine they practise than it does about the patient’s lack of reaction.
¹ Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine by Wesley J. Smith. Smith is a Lawyer and award-winning author, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. He is also a consultant to the Patients Rights Council. In May 2004, because of his work in bioethics, Smith was named one of the nation’s premier expert thinkers in bioengineering by the National Journal. His new blog Human Exceptionalism is hosted by National Review Online.
Psychiatry is Not a Science