Sunday, November 24, 2013

What is Wrong with our Healthcare System?

This article is taken from my book Gregorian Vision.

We often think very highly of the modern western medical system, but Paulos Mar Gregorios was a little hesitant to do so. Although he was well aware of its contributions, he was not blind toward its inability to deal with humanity’s health-related problems adequately. Mar Gregorios had a very clear view of how the medical system can be transformed. His views on this topic were put together in a book, Healing- A Holistic Approach, published in 1995. Here I am making an attempt to introduce some of his major views on this topic.

Although a very large amount of public funds is now devoted to medical education and educational institutions, at present it hardly reaches a fifth of the world's population. Modern medicine is a profit oriented industry that only makes money if people get and stay sick. The occurrence of hospital-induced diseases is on the rise. Antibiotics are increasingly becoming ineffective because bacteria are developing resistance to antibiotics. Cattle are often fed with chemicals and treated with antibiotics, and all these chemicals and antibiotics reach the body of human beings through milk. In its present state, it is unaffordable for most people, unacceptable in terms of the damage it does, and undesirable in terms of its over-mechanization in both diagnosis and therapy. Western Medicine needs a radical transformation to be able to cope with the healthcare needs of today’s world.

 In Search of the Root Cause
 What is the very root cause of the ineffectiveness of the western medical system? A medical treatment is a solution to a health problem. If the solution is not satisfactory, the problem will remain as such. In order to solve a problem, primarily we need a good diagnosis of the problem. If the diagnosis is wrong, the problem remains unsolved. Mar Gregorios argues that there is something basically wrong in the way the western medical system does the diagnosis.

Imagine that a sick person visits a doctor. The doctor examines him. He compares his pulse rate, breathing rate, temperature, and other information with those of a healthy person, and makes a diagnosis. Let us say he has a temperature of 104* F. The doctor decides that he has a fever comparing it with the ideal temperature of 98.6* F. In order to make such a diagnosis, the doctor must know that the ideal temperature is 98.6* F.  If a doctor thinks that the ideal temperature is 104* F, he will not think that his patient has fever. Mar Gregorios argues that like a doctor who doesn’t know what the ideal temperature is, the western medical system doesn’t know what the ideal health is. If it has a distorted view of health, how can it correctly diagnose ill-health?

 The view of health of the western medical system is a part of the distorted and disintegrated mechanistic worldview of the western civilization.

 Tom Heuerman gives us a beautiful account of the nature and evolution of the mechanistic worldview.  Europe witnessed in sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a mighty cultural movement called the enlightenment, which radically altered the existing worldview. An organic and living world was replaced by a machine-like world. Galileo Galilei, Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, and Isaac Newton were the leaders of this movement. They pictured the world as a mechanical system put in motion by God and operated by exact mathematical laws. Knowledge of the laws and the initial conditions of the system enables a scientist to predict accurately what the system would do and where it would go. The world became almost like a clock— running for ever without any purpose. Humans could detach themselves from the universe and observe and gain knowledge of its workings. Ethics, spirit, values, quality, and consciousness were marginalized. The only things that mattered were the quantifiable, and the knowledge of science was certain and absolute. People used scientific knowledge to dominate and control nature. When our worldview became mechanistic, our life also became mechanistic. The way a machine works became the ideal for factories and workers. Creativity was replaced by routine and control. We are supposed to act like machines and we are treated like machines. Human feelings do not matter --machines don’t have feelings.

The western medical system views a human being as a machine. A machine is self-contained, may be related or unrelated to other machines. It is not alive and it does not evolve. It does not have feelings or consciousness. If something goes wrong, a mechanic can fix it by replacing a part or by tightening a screw. The physicians and other healthcare workers in the western medical system view themselves as technicians of the human body. If there is a broken bone, they carefully place the broken parts together to enhance healing. If there is an uncontrolled growth inside the body, they cut open that part and remove the growth. If a tooth gets decayed, they replace it with an artificial one. They have drugs for every identifiable illness, which go inside the body and do chemical changes.

 Well, aren’t they doing an excellent job? Yes, they are! But they can do an even better job if they change the way they see a human being. Instead of a machine, a human being needs to be seen as a living, conscious, evolving being integrally related to other human beings, to the nature, and to God. Thus health will be seen not just the health of the body but of the whole human being and of all his relations. This is often referred to as the holistic health. Holistic deals with the whole, not just with a part of it. Our medical system is not holistic; it treats mainly our body, seeing it as a machine.

In Search of a Solution
 Our medical system came to have a mechanistic view because our worldview itself became mechanistic. We can have a holistic view in the medical system only if we have a holistic worldview. Are we evolving such a view? Yes, we are.

Fortunately, from the middle of the twentieth century a new worldview began to emerge mainly due to the developments in Physics and Biology. We may call it organic worldview or ecological worldview. The world is no more a machine but a living being in this view. The world is no more building blocks put together but an integrated whole connected by a web of relationships. We can no longer stand apart and observe and control the world; we are one with it. From certainty and prediction we are moving to uncertainty and probability.   

 Tom Heuerman concludes:
The universe of the emerging worldview is an alive and undivided whole created as one entity with its elements interconnected, interrelated, and interdependent. All betterment flows from the totality as the diverse parts interact and organize together in patterns that balance and sustain the essence of the whole. The potential for change is unlimited and uncommitted. This is a universe of spirit, purpose, meaning, and mystery.

 David Bohm, the eminent physicist, has developed a holographic view of the universe. A hologram is a no-lens photography in which each part is a representation of the whole. A hologram is a product of two light waves colliding, while the universe may be a product of several energy waves colliding. A hologram is static, while the universe is dynamic.

 This view is close to the traditional Asian religious understanding of reality! According to the Hindu notion of maya, the present perception and experience of samsara (world) as a flowing reality, is the joint product of a certain vikshepa (projection) of maya (power) by Brahman (Ultimate Reality) and the veil of avidya (ignorance) brought to perception by the human mind. According to the Buddhist concept of pratitya-samudpada (conditioned co-origination), our perception of reality is the joint product of the conceptually indescribable reality and our own mental sensory equipment. In the Chinese tradition tao (order) and te (power) together constitute cosmic reality, which includes the human reality. In the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition, this world is a projection of God’s energia. It is God's will, wisdom, and word that keep both the universe and humanity going.

 All that exists is one integrated whole, but for convenience we may see them in four separate levels. Paulos Mar Gregorios presents this four-level world neatly as follows.
 At the lowest level we have inorganic matter-energy, that is, bundles and packets and waves of energy expressing itself in numerous forms -- the elements, their compounds, and things made of them, forces which we see as light and sound, heat and electricity, magnetism and gravity, and the strong and weak forces that hold matter together or make forms of matter-energy interact with each other, including nuclear power.

 Continuous with this inorganic level is the organic or bio level. We say continuous because the line of demarcation between a crystal or radioactive element on the one hand and a protein molecule or virus on the other is not so absolute or clear. In general terms, however, we see the distinguishing mark of life as homeostasis or the capacity to maintain certain internal constants in the face of a wide range of external pressures, such as maintaining a constant temperature within the body despite fluctuations in the environmental temperature. Our knowledge of this level is far from satisfactory. We have seen what difference a little discovery about genes and their structure can make in our over-all perspective.

 Continuous with the organic level is the third level—of consciousness.  Consciousness may be defined as an internal apprehension of external reality Consciousness is difficult to conceptualize or study objectively. We distort consciousness when we make it an object.

 There is a fourth level about which we know even less. We could call it the cosmic level or the transcendent level. This level is the one least understood or even accepted by modern science. Attempts have been made to conceptualize how the four levels work together through pseudo-sciences like astrology. Carl Gustav Jung suggested synchronicity as a scientific principle which shows how the micro reflects the macro at any given moment. Art, poetry, and religion are better able to deal with this level than science.

 Sickness may be seen as malfunctioning at the first three levels. However, today’s medical and surgical therapy usually pays attention only to the first and second levels. Today we are moving towards including the third level in diagnosis.

 Dr. Deepak Chopra suggests similarity between quantum events and mental events. He suggests that each cell is intelligent, and that human intelligence is like a field propagating its influence over a large expanse of space and time, and the body is a web of such fields rather than molecules organized in space. Every particle of living matter is in touch with every other, so that life as a whole is an intricate cosmic system of interacting fields. This means that the human system is a subsystem of all that exists and is integrally related to it. Disturbances in that integral relation are the diseases. Restoration to the ideal relationship to the whole is healing. The whole is the source of healing force— the same source from which matter, life, and consciousness originate.

 We need a new medical system in which we see matter, life, and consciousness as a single continuum. It means that pharmacology should be seen as only one element in the healing process. A caring community must be recognized as a healing force. Faith healing needs to be given importance. The society needs to be restructured to make social relations holistic, and the human environment needs to be life-supporting. Medical practitioners have to break out of their self-image as technicians and become warm human beings. Often by a caring touch, they can communicate confidence, warmth, support and understanding. When a healer prays for the sick placing the right hand on the head, healing energies transfer through the touch.

 Almost any form of meditation will have healing effects. Yoga is a combination of exercise and meditation. Meditation helps us to overcome our mental chatter, which is the root of much ill-health. Good meditation decreases the restless alpha waves and increases the quiet beta waves, and also synchronizes the hemispheres of the brain. However, we should not develop meditation into a religion, for it is nothing but an exercise of our mind for concentration. We need to climb higher using it as a stepping stone.

The modern western civilization, which provides the ideological foundation to the life of humanity in our world, views the world as a machine. Our healthcare system understands health, illness, and healing using this metaphor of machine. In order to evolve a new healthcare system, we need nothing less than a new worldview—one that sees the world as an evolving, conscious, living being. It is already emerging, but it needs active and conscious support and promotion to take roots.

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