If you want a great, though challenging, read on how we wound up with the “health care” environment we’ve got today, give Ivan Ilich’s Medical Nemesis a whirl.
Early on, Ilich comments on the “illusion” (his term) of doctors’ effectiveness. It’s a passage worth quoting at length:
The infections that prevailed at the outset of the industrial age illustrate how medicine came by its reputation. Tuberculosis, for instance, reached a peak over two generations. In New York in 1812, the death rate was estimated to be higher than 700 per 10,000; by 1882, when Koch first isolated and cultured the bacillus, it had already declined to 370 per 10,000. The rate was down to 180 when the first sanatorium was opened in 1910, even though “consumption” still held second place in the mortality tables. After World War II, but before antibiotics became routine, it had slipped into eleventh place with a rate of 48. Cholera, dysentery, and typhoid similarly peaked and dwindled outside the physician’s control. By the time their etiology was understood and their therapy had become specific, these diseases had lost much of their virulence and hence their social importance. The combined death rate from scarlet fever, diphtheria, whooping cough, and measles among children up to fifteen shows that nearly 90 percent of the total decline in mortality between 1860 and 1965 had occurred before the introduction of antibiotics and widespread immunization. In part this recession may be attributed to improved housing and to a decrease in the virulence of micro-organisms, but by far the most important factor was a higher host-resistance due to better nutrition. In poor countries today , diarrhea and upper-respiratory-tract infections occur more frequently, last longer, and lead to higher mortality where nutrition is poor, no matter how much or how little medical care is available. In England, by the middle of the nineteenth century, infectious epidemics had been replaced by major malnutrition syndromes, such as rickets and pellagra. These in turn peaked and vanished, to be replaced by the diseases of early childhood and, somewhat later, by an increase in duodenal ulcers in young men. When these declined, the modern epidemics took over: coronary heart disease, emphysema, bronchitis, obesity, hypertension, cancer (especially of the lungs), arthritis, diabetes, and so-called mental disorders. Despite intensive research, we have no complete explanation for the genesis of these changes. But two things are certain: the professional practice of physicians cannot be credited with the elimination of old forms of mortality or morbidity, nor should it be blamed for the increased expectancy of life spent in suffering from new diseases. For more than a century, analysis of disease trends has shown that the environment is the primary determinant of the state of general health of any population. [emphasis added]
Still, as we’ve discussed before, many continue to cling to this idea that through medicine, we can play God.
Most of us grew up with this weird kind of faith in progress, the notion that we humans are so wise and powerful, we can eventually do away with every possible risk to our well-being and triumph over every obstacle. Kill the germ. Vaccinate against every microbe we could possibly invent a vaccine for. Cut out the cancer. Block the symptom to create the illusion of health.
But wisdom requires humility. This attitude that we can control everything is a delusion born out of pride. Only when we recognize and accept our humility – before ourselves, each other, our Creator – will we be able to fulfill our potential to create and sustain health, not by our own ideas but by Nature’s.
Unfortunately, humility seems to be in short supply these days.
Over the past few years, the rhetoric around vaccine choice has gotten especially ugly. We’ve all heard the raging of pro-vaxxers who would deny others’ right to informed consent, forcing them to take “medicine” they do not want.
Fear and rage overwhelm reason and empathy.
Still, there was maybe a bit of hope that all such talk was just run-of-the-mill online hyperbole: Anti-vaxxers are child abusers! They should have their kids taken away! They should be thrown in jail!
Now a mother has, in fact, been jailed for refusing to vaccinate her 9-year old son.
As ABC News reported, the mother, Rebecca Bredow,
is the primary caregiver for the boy, though she shares legal custody with his father, her ex-husband Jason Horne. Bredow said that when her son was much younger, she and Horne originally agreed to space out vaccinations for him.
After they divorced, the boy’s father changed his mind – and not necessarily out of concern for his son’s health.
Benton G. Richardson, a lawyer for Bredow’s ex-husband, told ABC News that “this case is not truly about vaccinations.”
Richardson added that Bredow and Horne have been embroiled in an ongoing legal battle, and a court sided with Horne in November of 2016, ordering Bredow to vaccinate her son.
Court documents obtained by ABC News state that a court first asked Bredow to get immunizations for her son in November 2016, but state that as of September 2017 the child had not been vaccinated.
“It is our position that this case is not truly about vaccinations,” Richardson said. “It is a case about Ms. Bredow refusing to comport with any number of the court’s orders and actively seeking to frustrate Mr. Horne’s joint legal custody rights.”
Tell that to the headline writers, who have honed in on the vaccine angle.
But what’s particularly startling about the case is that, in choosing to spread out her son’s vaccinations, Bredow broke no law.
“I am fully compliant with all of the state laws, the vaccine waivers. I’ve educated myself on vaccines.”
It’s hard to see how anyone’s interests have been served by locking her up in jail – an action that, as one commentator noted, seems to have been “handed down as a warning and a lesson rather than a necessary legal measure.”
Meantime, the boy was given all shots required by the standard schedule.
Our freedom to make our own choices for our health and well-being – and that of our kids – continues to be under assault, both here in the States and abroad.
In Canada, parents have been taken to court for negligence after their child’s death because they opted for naturopathic or integrative care.
New legislation has been introduced in Australia that would dock welfare payments to parents who refuse to vaccinate fully according to schedule.
Italy has become one of the few Western European nations to force vaccinations on all children – even as some pro-immunization members of the EU Parliament question whether mandatory vaccination is actually the way to go.
Despite the epithet tagged on us – “anti-vaxxers” – relatively few of us are truly anti-vaccine. What we are is pro-freedom, cherishing the right to choose what is done to or put in our bodies – a right that is affirmed by the American Medical Association itself.
Vaccines are no exception.
This is a hard conversation to have in the current social and political climate, but it’s more important than ever. Once rights are undermined, it takes a long, long time to get them back – if we get them back at all.