When Medicine Threatens Health

The Growing Crisis of Chronic Disease in the United States 1995-2030 projection

In 1975 Ivan Illich wrote in Medical Nemesis

The medical establishment has become a major threat to health.[…] The threat which current medicine represents to the health of populations is analogous to the threat which the volume and intensity of traffic represent to mobility, the threat which education and the media represent to learning, and the threat which urbanization represents to competence in homemaking. In each case a major institutional endeavor has turned counterproductive.

If we look at a combination of healthcare spending and health sector job growth, we can see that the number of healthcare jobs and the amount of money we spend on healthcare is directly proportional to the increasing number of sick people. Sickness is driving our economy.

Percentage of total private-sector employment in private-sector health care industries. 1958-2008. U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics
Healthcare spending in the United States 1960-2010. Huffington Post
Growth in Total Health Expenditure Per Capita, U.S. and Selected Countries, 1970-2008 (source: Kaiser Family Foundation). Forbes

The current thought on both liberal and conservative fronts never touches the holy cow of medicine as the culprit. All human suffering or money related discussions accept medicine’s status quo. Opinions only differ where the funding comes, whether private or public entities should be in charge, what kind of medicine should practiced (preventive vs. reactive), and who should be getting the money of the increasingly disabled citizen. Nobody questions the very need to engage in the medical health preservation sham.

Ivan Illich outlines why an overgrown professional and physician-based healthcare system is sickening

  • It produces clinical damage that outweighs its potential benefits.
  • It enhances and obscures the political conditions that make society unhealthy.
  • It mystifies and expropriates the power of the individual to heal him/herself and to shape his or her environment.

The medical and paramedical monopoly over hygienic methodology and technology is a glaring example of the political misuse of scientific achievement to strengthen industrial rather than personal growth. Such medicine is but a device to convince those who are sick and tired of society that it is they who are ill, impotent, and in need of technical repair.

The solution is NOT to have more or better healthcare but to deal with our human weakness, vulnerability, and uniqueness in a personal and autonomous way.

When Medicine Threatens Human Rights

Eugène Delacroix. Liberty Leading the People (French: La Liberté guidant le peuple) (1830) . Louvre

The tyranny of state sponsored “science”-based medicine infringes upon the citizen rights to

  • self-determination;
  • liberty;
  • freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment;
  • freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance;
  • the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
  • the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services […].

Science-Based Medicine misinterprets right to medical care as the obligation to subject yourself to the mercy of a therapeutic state against your better judgement, opinion, worldview, philosophy, or religion. This medicine sponsored blog openly calls to take away freedoms and rights protected in the US Constitution and the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

All children deserve rational, science-based medical care. […] All religious and philosophical exemption laws should be repealed.

Science-Based Medicine political stance is based on several erroneous and contested beliefs, decried by scientific thought itself:

  • The belief that there is single truth, tracing its roots to a religious Judeo-Christian idea of a single god.
  • The belief that medicine of today is the single truth.
  • The belief that medicine is good.
  • Denial that medicine of today may be and is most likely to be wrong.
  • Denial of a long history of medical wrongs and lies.
  • Denial of inherently racist, misogynist, and classist nature of medicine.
  • Thebelief that parents have motives and intent to harm their children and that Law, Government, and Medicine will protect your children from you.

Any citizen is free to abstain from any kind of medical care, no matter how justified, proven, logical, approved, right, or effective. Medical care is a right, not an obligation.



Self-care. What it is not

Self-care. Wikipedia entry. 2016

Self-care is part of living. It used to be. We used to eat to live. We used to sleep to rest. We used to walk to get to a place. Not any longer. Today self-care is filed under “Medicine” category and marked as an ” intervention“. Apparently, we eat, sleep, and walk “to ensure [we] are physically and mentally fit”. We eat to be healthy. We sleep to be healthy. We walk for health. In a society where medicine is a state sponsored religion, health, the salvation nouveau, becomes the end goal.

Wikipedia elaborates that “in modern medicine, preventive medicine aligns most closely with self-care”. What it means for you, a citizen, is a state authorized interference into the most private and unique areas of your life – your sleep, your food, your inner self. You used to decide that you sleep as long as you need to rest. Today medicine develops acceptable standards of how much sleep you need. Medical authorities will control what food you can and must eat. Government goals include exactly how little walking for health is required.

Self-care today became internalized medicine. You became your own doctor who polices yourself for compliance with the latest medical recommendations.  Collectively we used to know how each of us feels, what we  should do from day today, and how we deal with everyday living. This knowledge has been eradicated and replaced with the most recent discoveries of British scientists.

A Bun in the Oven. How the Food and Birth Movements Resist Industrialization

In her most recent book  A Bun in the Oven:How the Food and Birth Movements Resist Industrialization Barbara Katz Rothman writes about the process of internalized medicalization as it relates to birth but may be applied to any area of lay knowledge and expertise.

“We used to think of medicalization as a process in which medical doctors claimed expertise over given areas of life. But it is no longer externalized, with the power to medicalize located in medical authorities – it’s moved inwards now. We do it to ourselves. It was the different knowledge that midwives and doctors had, and the very different power that they had to act on that knowledge… […] It is, to use a phrase Robbie Davis Floyd used, “authoritative knowledge” that midwifery is contesting, not just the authorities. Doctors no longer serve as gatekeepers to medical knowledge, pontifications, or research. When information was gathered in small groups of women teaching each other, when patients met outside medical settings to help each other in a nascent self-help movement, seeking information was a form of resistance to medical authority. No longer. It is now a form of compliance. Many of the “self-help” online forums are run by the medical and pharmaceutical industries themselves. Whether it is a direct-to-consumer advertising or the less direct marketing done online in patient groups, doctors – for good or for ill, and I could agree either – are no longer barriers between the medical industry and the consumer/patient.

The knowledge, the information, the “facts”, have moved into our own ways of thinking, and we have become our own medical authorities, living and experiencing our bodies in medical terms. (emphasis mine)

[…] Increasingly, people understand their own lived experiences in the language of biomedicine. In this world of medical management, in which every significant human experience, characteristic, emotion, strength, and failing is traced to its genetic and neurological “cause”, how can we think about midwifery and birth?”

How can we think about anything in this life avoiding the lens of medicine? How can we take care of ourselves without the interference of the medical system? How can we SELF-care without medicine instilling its dogma and practice into our daily lives? How can we rid ourselves of medical control?

Ivan Illich proposed that we deal with our human weakness, vulnerability, and uniqueness in a personal and autonomous way.


Drug Iatrogenesis

Norman Rockwell. The Druggist
Drug related harm is always described in modern medical research as adverse effects of drugs, overuse of drugs, or drug interactions. Never in this line of thinking do we question the need to take drugs in the first place. Drug use is an acceptable and scaringly unquestioned tenet of medical religion practice.

There are a couple of immediate harmful effects of taking medication: foregoing non-medicinal ways of coping and maintaining current state of personal or social affairs that may be causing the malady in the first place.

For example, taking acetaminophen/paracetamol (Tylenol) for a headache most frequently forgoes resorting to simple measures like food, drink, rest, and quiet. Chronic use of painkillers for headaches may be remedy for chronic sleep deprivation or stress in life.

Taking blood pressure medicine often allows people to carry on abusive eating ways, eventually worsening the original problem. The same goes for diabetic medications. Muscle relaxants for backaches permit for bad posture, poor ergonomics, prolonged driving, lack of rest and movement to remain as the norm. Antianxiety and antidepressants mask lack of sleep, caffeine abuse, as well as racial, gender, and social injustice and violence.

As a result of wide-spread acceptance of drugs as the first, often the only, way of dealing with a problem, people lose other  ways of helping themselves to get better

Why Frankenstein medicine is possible

Li Wei. Hero-ICU (2010). http://en.cafa.com.cn/a-visual-tour-of-li-weis-ingenioushero-photo-gallery.html

We live in the age of “Death with Dignity” (i.e. death that is approved by gatekeeper Medicine as a System), push for more healthcare, and more preventive healthcare. Citizens push for changes – changes within the boundaries of a box. Citizens do not venture outside the box of Medicine as an institution. Citizens  build their own prisons and see life through the reflection from the prison walls they built. Exiting the system that harms and brings suffering never crosses anybody’s mind.

Lee Hoinacky writes in Dying Is Not Death

Techno-medicine has created a race of freakish prodigies far beyond imaginings of science fiction and Hollywood, for these creatures were truly human at some time. Some people finally begin to revolt, begin to demand death in place of suffering monsterhood. But many have been technologized, to some extent made into technological artifacts. In everyone the pattern of technological death is deeply engrained. People have had their knowledge of how to die obliterated through a lifetime of treatment by professionals. Now comes the final request, a kind of solution: “Through your propaganda and interventions, reaching back to before I was born, you have made me what I am…I am your invention, your product. Now, I’ve had enough; it’s time to die. Kill me. That’s your obligation, since you have created me… Into your hands I commend my spirit…

But modern life is not wholly determined by techno-science; insurance companies demand a part of the action; bureaucratic procedures are still required; other experts must be consulted; rationals must be devised; the appropriate poison or instrument must be selected; papers must be filled out; all the requisite signatures must be obtained. Only then the killing can take place.

It is fitting, I suppose that death in a technological society occur in this way. After all, one of the principle effects of modern science is to make each person more and more helpless, in increasingly remove any vestige of autonomy. Death should fit this pattern, should be totally under the control of caring professionals and conscientious bureaucrats. Compassionate doctors cannot renege in their responsibility at the last moment.

Lee Hoinacki fittingly quotes his dear friend Ivan Illich, who wrote in Medical Nemesis

Socially approved death happens when man has become useless not only as producer but also as consumer. It is the point at which a consumer, trained at great expense, must finally be written off as a total loss. Dying has become an ultimate form of consumer resistance.

The solution that Ivan Illich proposes lie outside of the medical system. Think out of the box!

Medical nemesis is resistant to medical remedies. It can be reversed only through a recovery of the will to self-care among the laity, and through the legal, political, and institutional recognition of the right to care, which imposes limits upon the professional monopoly of physicians.

The recovery of personal autonomy will thus be the result of political action reinforcing an ethical awakening. […] people will limit medical therapies because they want to conserve their opportunity and power to heal. […] Better health care will depend, not on some new therapeutic standard, but on the level of willingness and competence to engage in self-care. The recovery of this power depends on the recognition of our present delusions. (read more)

Of note, self-care does not mean that you become your own doctor and medically police yourself. We will talk more of it later…

Torture for your good with everyone’s approval

Li Wei. ICU (2011). http://liwei-liwei.com/ICU

A woman is struggling for breath. A live blistered corpse is turning blue unless there is a mask with enormous amount of oxygen forced into her lungs. She dips in and out of oblivion, not really knowing what is happening. Her family is not ready to let go. She has been ready to die for weeks. She should have been long gone. A doctor is very puzzled what she is supposed to do when the woman she is treating is clearly dying and there is not amount of medicine, tests, or procedures that will keep her alive but will make her suffering last longer. Techno-medicine is able to prolong her suffering and dying.  Her family is not by her side. They have appointments and engagements. Death does not fit into their busy schedules. They cannot “watch this”. It is hard and heart wrenching to watch a fellow human suffer. The implicit idea is that people who care for her can watch her suffer, fluid oozing out of her already decaying body, grimacing from pain, gasping for air.

The torture that medicine inflicts upon people today is akin concentration camp medical experiments (Dr.Mengele is nervously smoking aside). The irony of this torture is such that, as Ivan Illich’s follower and friend Lee Hoinaki writes in Dying Is Not Death,

Today, the torture is inflicted for the other’s good, and with almost everyone’s approval. The action is honored by the society, the technologically approved institutions praised and celebrated by nearly all reasonable people.

and further,

What [we] suffer today may be the unmistakable result of repeated medical interventions, these modern wonders of up-to-date care. Such misery is utterly unnatural, horrifyingly perverse, way beyond what is man’s lot to suffer in this life.  […] we can see the pain inflicted on many under the modern rubric of care; we can look into the face of evil.

The many paradoxes of modern faith in medicine and medicine as practice lies in the facts that

  • people believe in miracles (watch Extremis)
  • modern medicine is a miracle enterprise
  • people believe in life eternal (as in “we live forever and never die”; I can’t attribute the info, but I read in some research paper than 30% of Americans believe that medicine can cure everything, which made the author of the paper wonder what these people thought they will die of)
  • healthcare workers are trained to believe in medicine and they really do believe
  • at some point, the reality of death creeps on healthcare workers, but they can’t do much in a system that is set up to support the idea of life eternal (as in “we live forever and never die”)
  • if any healthcare worker decided to veer off course and suggest it’s time you die, members of general public will serve as guards of the idea of life eternal (as in “we live forever and never die”) and push for indefinite  body in space and time existence sustaining measures, leaving healthcare workers powerless but to continue torturing a fellow human.

It is dumbfounding to find yourself in a Kafkaesque society where the system is set up in such a way that there seems to be no way out of it even when some people see that the system is failing and harming citizens.




Belief in good medicine’s inability to harm

The extraction of Asclepius from the abdomen of his mother Coronis by his father Apollo. Woodcut from the 1549 edition of Alessandro Beneditti’s De Re Medica. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/cesarean/part1.html

While editing Ukrainian Iatrogenesis Wikipedia entry, the most contested point was the definition of what constitutes healthcare induced harm. A doctor, PhD level scientist, insisted that “erroneous and inadequate action of a healthcare worker, conscious or unconscious, cause illness, complication, or death of a patient” (my emphasis). This mistaken belief that good intent and correct application of medical knowledge and technology cannot and will not result in harm to patient is the cornerstone of modern religion of medicine.

In 1975 Ivan Illich criticized doctors as a group and medicine as an activity that caused harm regardless of noble intentions. More current research shows that most harm is caused not because of inadequate actions of individual practitioners, but because “medical care is an inherently risky enterprise. Unintended consequences are “a standard feature of helpful, well-intentioned and even well-designed” order of things in medical practice. They are products of medicine as scientific philosophy and medicine as human activity.

Some common examples or good intent-harmful outcome may be cancer surgery that results in lymphedema or cancer treatments that cause nerve damage pain that does not respond to treatment leaving a person to suffer unbearable pain without any hope for relief. Hospital birth results in an epidemic of major abdominal surgeries (Cesarean section) along with physical and psychological maiming of millions of women or mass inability of women to breastfeed. The use of external fetal monitors produces distress in babies that it is meant to detect. As we can see, there is no malicious intent or individual malpractice. Good intent coupled with acceptable and “correct” practice that harms people while helping them.