The blogosphere is doing a reasonably good job of covering this, but I’m still fuming over Senator Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) health care policy hearings. Each morsel of the hearing contains more idiocy than the last. In my attempt to shed some light into Harkin’s guano-filled cave, I’m going to examine some of the specific testimony, starting with that of Dr. Dean Ornish.
Medicine today focuses primarily on drugs and surgery, genes and germs, microbes and molecules, but we are so much more than that.
When I hear statements like this, my bullshit detector asplodes. Sure, it’s only one sentence out of many, but it really sums up the entirety of the testimony. It asks the question, “what is medicine, really?”
I’ll take a shot at that one, given that I’m actually a practicing internist. Doctors practice medicine. Medicine is the application of science in the prevention and treatment human disease. Not so long ago, medicine was defined only by the final clause—science wasn’t as critical, and any well-intentioned healer could be said be be practicing medicine. We’ve grow a bit. How? By understanding how drugs act on they body and what outcomes they produce. By discovering genetics and how genes influence health and disease. By discovering micro-organisms and the diseases the cause, and by learning how to stamp them out. By understanding that human beings are, in the end, simply a part of the physical world—they are made of “star stuff”, but that star stuff is organized into molecules, genes, cells, tissues, organs. One of those organs is the brain, through which we interact with and alter our environment. But we are still physical beings, and our health depends on physical processes. In short, we are not “so much more than” matter.
Sure, our consciousness makes us kinda special, but it doesn’t really change the story. Doctors who utilize scientific medical knowledge with compassion are doing their job. Those that claim to have special knowledge above and beyond the physical universe should have gone to seminary.