An Alternative National Health Scheme
The word 'alternative' in this case should not be taken to imply that any national health service is already in existence or even projected. The best we can hope for in the foreseeable future is a sickness service on a national scale in which every citizen can receive a basic level of treatment without charge for those of his diseases which are susceptible to orthodox methods of diagnosis, the cost being met by the community at large: from each according to his income, to each according to his ill.
Our federal and state ministers for health would be more accurately designated ministers for the allopathic treatment of disease. For the achievement of positive health as a condition qualitatively different from that of a mere absence of diagnosable disease is no more considered as a necessary objective today than that of growing old, as distinct from merely ageing. Perhaps, in some socially unconscious manner, it is taken for granted that the positively healthy person can always manage to survive somehow without society's protective ministrations, growing old in a wisdom denied to the majority, while society's task is to tend the survival of the unfittest.
And there could be some virtue in that presumption but for the fact that the maintenance of positive health is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve as adulterated food, a polluted environment, the pace and demands of urban living, and the infections of the more obvious victims of them, become ever more ubiquitous. To grow uncontaminated food is becoming increasingly hard for organic and biodynamic market gardeners when they must draw water from polluted streams or cultivate land down wind of an aerial spraying neighbour; to grow one's own and live wholly on it is too time-consuming an occupation for most people with other creative work to do; and to drop out of society uncompromisingly would involve at best a regimen every bit as restrictive as that of the pure vegan or orthodox jew, and at worst a seclusion which would be a disease in itself. No man is an island entire of itself, not, that is, without denaturing.
How can the most ideal health seeker avoid such risks as the following?
- inoculation when travelling without the natural resistance being lowered by the effects of the fear of getting caught, fined and quarantined;
- the consumption of hotel or hospital (or quarantine station) food;
- exposure to radioactive fallout, inhalation of exhaust gases, ingestion of pesticide traces in, say, herbal teas, the effects of preservatives, artificial colouring and emasculation of canned and other mass
- produced foodstuffs, the milk of discontented cows fed on superphosphate, or that of unselectively omnivorous goats;
- the inheritance of a 'normal' childhood's depredations;
- Infections of unutterable sadness,
Infections of incalculable madness
Infections of incurable despair'
James Thompson's City of Dreadful Night.
Not even by living in the country, staying home, eating his own produce and drinking purified rainwater can the ideal health seeker avoid all the risks. It may well be that a fully healthy organism can counter or heal the effects of a few such onslaughts, but there must be a limit of tolerance beyond which the effects are cumulative. In consequence, because compromise is unavoidable so, sooner or later, is some degree of sickness.
Self-doctoring, for those self-knowledgeable enough, is successful only up to the point at which another healing hand or mind becomes indispensable. No one can manipulate his own back, for instance, or converse with himself. Periodic maintenance by an expert is necessary for most people,and such expertise is usually to be found only in or near major urban centres. Such maintenance must be paid for wholly out of the patient's pocket and sometimes far from cheaply, if he wishes to avoid the risks of surrender to the allopaths.
It is essential to remember, in any discussion involving the concept of positive health, that the dominant medical orthodoxy, allopathy, is only one of many systems of medicine, each claiming to be complete in itself and each embodying, like different tongues, a different set of postulates. None is a panacea, though some might claim to be. But each has its place, each its own region of most effective application in the matter of healing. Altopathy is founded in a principle so simple and obvious as to be little but applied commonsense. Where the workings of the body deviate from the normal, the allopath applies a counteracting procedure. Thus a poultice is applied to a boil, forceps to an aching tooth, a scalpel to a diseased appendix, bandages to a wound, splints to a broken limb: all proper enough remedies once the ailment has been allowed to go that far, producing predictable results.
But extend the principle far enough and some crucial doubts arise. A drug can be administered for a headache and after an interval the sufferer may no longer feel the pain. If it does not recur, at least until some time after the effects of the drug can be presumed to have worn off, the sufferer will probably infer that the drug cured the headache. Is it the pain that has been killed, or the sensibility that makes the sufferer aware of the pain? And what else is endangered by the suppression of such sensibility? The organism's natural resistance to addiction? Certainly the caffeine which is a constituent of many mild painkillers has recently been shown to be a causative factor in renal disorder. And what of the cause of the headache? Allopathy is equipped to discover not causes but stimuli. Thus a headache may be stimulated by lack of sleep, indigestion, eyestrain, anxiety, fever, fatigue, shock, a minor dislocation in the musculature of the neck, a knock on the head, constipation, dehydration from heat or alcohol, excessive noise, or intrapsychic conflict; and any of these may arise from a deeper and more extensive cause.
By the token of allopathic theory, a drug was developed to counteract morning sickness in pregnancy. They called it thalidomide. Another was developed to counteract rheumatism. Cortisone. The allopaths themselves have become troubled enough by the side-effects of some of their 'wonder' treatments as to coin a term for illness produced by treatment for something else. Iatrogenic illness. Allopathy has a far sorrier record of it than the most eccentric forms of 'quackery'. And in fact, from a standpoint of positive health, all forms of allopathic treatment but the oldest traditional ones such as bonesetting, amputation and bandaging may be said to cause some iatrogenic disorder which itself must be cured before the patient may be counted well rather than merely better.
The history of the growth of allopathy into the most powerful, wealthy and pervasive of modern orthodoxies has been fairly closely paralleled by the growth of mechanisation and technology, when by rights it should have antedated it, for its basic principle was derived from the teachings of a medical sect in Asia Minor as early as the first century before Christ. Its establishment was delayed for several centuries until the decline of religion and magic after the Renaissance by the repressive dogmas of the Christian church, an orthodoxy supplanted in due course by the very heresy it outlawed.
Barber-surgeons and leeches held a social position in those days comparable to that of herbalists and faith healers today. It was their conviction that disease was some superfluous or poisonous substance inside the body which had to be eliminated from it. So by bleeding, cupping, blistering, sweating and purging, with clyster, emetic, enema and sneezing powder, they engaged every possible natural and artificial orifice of the body to excrete the evil humours. Then, as the human environment began to be changed as never before by the impact of machines, it began to seem normal and convenient to treat natural phenomena in the same way as machines: if it fails to work satisfactorily or stops, find out where the fault lies and either repair it or replace the faulty part. Such is the basis of today's medical and scientific orthodoxy, and it is a principle applied indiscriminately to the body human and the body politic, to animals, plants, and diseases of the natural environment, often with disastrous results that are becoming daily more manifest.
But mechanisation alone could not have raised allopathic medicine to its present hegemony. A climate of ideas was necessary, concerned with such novel notions as the rights of man, the value of human life, the achievement of universal happiness and freedom through the conquest of ignorance, poverty and disease, and so on. But above all, before the social reformers of the nineteenth century could welcome the doctors as allies, some success was required, and a 'scientific' explanation. The latter was provided by Pasteur, who was able to show that it was not evil spirits or witchcraft, divine vengeance or cosmic emanations that caused disease, but something else, theretofore undiscovered. The undreamt of agents were germs. Hence it came to be believed, by a simple extension of allopathic theory, that if you could find a germ to fit the disease, then kill the germ, you would rid the patient of the disease.
The results of this application appeared to be spectacular. Allopathic medicine was engineered in to a position from which its practitioners were able to claim victory over some of the great scourges of mankind, such as septicaemia and gangrene, smallpox, tetanus and diphtheria; and with anaesthesia to suppress the consciousness of pain, thus allowing an open go to the refinement of surgery, it was only a matter of time before the term 'allopathic medicine' came to seem a tautology in the public mind, as 'Catholic Church' had been in the past when 'Catholic' was synonymous with 'Christian'. But in fact, many of medicine's claims were, as they still are, right only by virtue of might. For example, there is no more evidence for believing that vaccination has been responsible for the conquest of smallpox than there is for believing that it was due to the preventive medicine of public health legislation. Both beliefs have only statistics to support their claims, and both sets of figures are equally convincing. Hence, if all else is equal, a person whose thinking is conditioned by a mechanised environment will prefer to attribute the victory to vaccine and ignore the contraindications, which from any hygienic viewpoint but that of allopathy demonstrate that vaccination and all its subsequent refinements are means of making money out of the fit and, to some degree, of making the well ill. For people will believe whatever their pundits and their own personality structures condition them to believe. They fear disease as their medieval counterparts feared the devil ; and perhaps their health is so tenuous that they are right to do so. A shot in the arm, after all, must seem a small price to pay for a charm to assuage the fear and a handy loophole out of the responsibilities and rigours of the quest for health.
Imagine a scale of health ranging from perfectly healthy at the top to dead at the bottom. All the dazzling achievements of modern allopathic medicine are capable of diagnosing ailments and treating patients on the lowest quarter of the scale only. Include orthodox psychiatry, which is predominantly as mechanistic as the practice of any physician or surgeon, and you might embrace another five per cent of the sickest. Now, imagine that anyone whose health could be classified in the upper tenth of the scale would seldom have anything to complain about and his own natural healing processes could restore any departure from the norm. An individual at any other point on the scale (that is, between ten and seventy on a scale of 100) would be one who sometimes felt his age, or often seemed out of sorts, fragile, slightly crook, off colour, under the weather, seedy, buggered, shagged or something, but otherwise with no specific ailment to complain about. Allopaths' waiting rooms are full of them and the doctors know they can do nothing but prescribe a tonic or some antidepressant pills and suggest a change or a holiday.
To count those seedy-feeling patients, neither fit nor sick, as sixty per cent of the population is, of course, a guess; but perhaps they serve to illustrate the fact, self-evident to almost everyone's experience, that the crude diagnostic techniques and hit-and-miss treatments of allopathy are not serving the majority of the population. Indeed the difference between the leech of yore and today's general practitioner lies in little more than the size of his pharmacopoeia; the difference between the old barber-surgeon with meataxe and bloodstained apron and today's wizard of the heart transplant is not a qualitative one but only an exquisitely sophisticated refinement of the same butchery: the microscalpel has replaced the meataxe and the bloodstained apron is first sterilised. But who asks why a person who has already disabled one heart should not use the next in the same way? Who demands why, with its vast wealth of resources, its extravaganza of claims, medical science is still battling as many plagues as ever, albeit different ones; and why it can offer no answers to so many simple questions?
No public analyst can isolate the constituents of a homeopathic microdose, but the origins of homeopathy can be found in Hippocratic writings and early Arab records. Its modern history is more than two centuries old, and in France it shares an equal status with allopathy. X-rays can seldom reveal the 'subluxations' of the spine that can be manipulated back into position by a skilled osteopath or chiropractor to make the lame walk or put a spring into the step of a person who feels middle aged at fifty. Osteopathy and chiropractice, with antecedents in one of the earliest medical practices of bonesetting, are both more than a century old and have each achieved the respectability of medical registration in some countries. No computerised diagnostic system can reveal tendencies towards disorder as, say, iris diagnosis in the hands of a skilled naturo-path can, or some other diagnostic techniques even more 'magical' to the allopathic mind; and no anatomist can prove the existence of the meridians which carry the life force in the body and form the framework of the theory underlying acupuncture, a system of medicine which has been standard in the Orient for five thousand years. Yet it is noteworthy, incidentally, that some allopaths have recently begun to exploit some of the cruder superficialities of acupuncture, those easily demonstrable and repeatable to the simple satisfactions of the allopathic mind, such as the now famous technique of anaesthesia, while they ignore the rest of that extensive and homogeneous system because its principles do not fit in with allopathic dogma.
None of these practices has achieved registration in Australia at the time of writing; and although some slender hopes exist that some of them may do so in time, there is not the slightest hope for any improvement in the social status of medical practitioners specialising in healing the human organism through means other than the body, such as radiesthesia, Christian science, meditation, or the laying on of hands. Yet the practitioners of all non-allopathic procedures are besieged by growing numbers of patients who have despaired of orthodox medicine.
Even so, the vast majority of that hypothetical sixty per cent who are neither sick nor well do not know where to seek relief from their indisposition. Those who do, find themselves paying fully from their own pockets with little or no benefits from their health funds. And in any national health service as now envisaged, the ten per cent of fit citizens and the sixty per cent of not-quite-well would be subsidising the palliatives of the sick, the halt, the lame and the dying. It is a situation which might be tolerable as the price to be paid for the privilege of being healthy in a sick society, but for the fact that in its implicit denial of adequate expression to heterodox systems of thought, the established society is ensuring that the medical applications of those systems are unjustly restricted in research and development. Meanwhile, millions are poured into the synthesising of life (the modern philosopher's stone for changing gold into base metals) and a cure for cancer (in effect the restoration of life in the dead).
An alternative national health service would begin with the long overdue dethronement of allopathic medicine by registering, on the same basis as the Australian Medical Association and associated bodies, all those associations of non-allopathic practitioners which maintain their own registers, training systems and codes of professional conduct to a standard commensurate with that of the best of their colleagues anywhere in the world. Then it would make the services of those practitioners as freely available to the public as those of allopathy.
This would, of course, guarantee the public exactly as much protection against the real quacks as the present system of registration guarantees against quack allopaths. No less, certainly, and perhaps a little more; for even as things stand today, it is as true as it was when Bernard Shaw wrote in 1917 that the 'the unregistered man must deliver the goods; he cannot live by the faith of his patients in a string of letters after his name. Nobody will dream of calling him in unless he is believed to have some special technical accomplishment or some knowledge of drugs that the registered doctor does not possess. People go to an unregistered practitioner solely in the hope of being cured; and unless they get well in his hands they drop him, and his practice collapses.'
But once all qualified non-allopathic practitioners are registered, a new service would be needed to reduce the attendant confusion. Where, for instance, would the uninformed migraine sufferer take his trouble? To the pharmacist as now? Or to the herbalist, whose distilled essences help to stimulate the body's own reactions so that it can conduct its own fight? Or to the naturopathic dietitian, who will argue that if the body is nourished only with the substances it needs and denied, as far as possible, those which are harmful or inessential, the sufferer can throw off his ailment by his own unaided efforts? Or the osteopath, whose case is that if the body's framework is not adjusted by manipulation to correct the structural derangements and postural errors to which most people's way of life makes them prone, the influence of the resultant spinal lesions on the body's systems through nerves and blood circulation can cause many forms of disability and poor health? Or the homeopath, who will administer an infinitesimal dilution of an appropriate drug, arguing that this would tend to increase its potency by serving to rally the patient's defensive forces and giving them this gentle 'reminder', as it were, of what they are supposed to be doing? Or the psychotherapist, who will say that since man is a psychosomatic organism, his state of mind is as much a contributory cause of the disorders he suffers as his state of body? Or the hypnotherapist, who will suggest to the patient under hypnosis what the psychotherapist hopes to achieve on a broader and more conscious front? Or the acupuncturist, whose needles stuck into points where the body's meridians pass close to the surface are said to stimulate the interrupted functions of the life force flowing along the meridians, sending their impulses to the lower centres of the brain and back to restore the diseased organ to its normal balance? Any of these modalities could effect some improvement, if not cure, for the migraine sufferer; and the choice must be that of the patient, for in the last analysis it is his faith in his medical practitioner which will enable treatment to become cure.
A body of consultants would be required general practitioners?—whose task would be that of advising and educating those patients who were unsure of which medical system would be best for them and the relief of their indisposition. Such consultants would probably become shrewd diagnosticians with experience, but diagnosis need not be an indispensable part of their task. Their work would need to be supported by a huge public educational programme with a twofold objective. One would be to teach people how to take proper care of their health to a degree unmatched by the present poorly-funded campaigns on behalf of such preventive areas as heart care, dental care, antismoking, and slimming; and to inculcate in every citizen a sense of care and individual responsibility for the condition of his own health or disorder; and not, as now, encourage him to hand over his body to the medical 'authorities' without question, explanation, participation or claim. The only patients who cannot avoid handing themselves over in that way should be those who are either unconscious (as after an accident) or too far gone to care beyond being snatched from the jaws of death at any price. For the other main objective of the programme should be to reduce such conditions to a minimum by persuading people to seek the appropriate medical advice at the very first tinge of disorder or twinge of discomfort, and not, as now, to carry on with a stiff upper lip until they are incapacitated or prostrate. Thus the more extreme forms of disease would be avoided as far as possible and natural death might come to be natural instead of, as now, a most abnormal phenomenon.
The cost of such a scheme, over its first twenty or thirty years at least, would be enormous. But that would probably not be the main prohibiting factor. A more powerful prohibition would arise from a fear among the powers of the established society that such a scheme might succeed. Imagine an overall improvement in the health of the community which is merely enough to invert the proportions on our scale of health, with the thirty percent instead at the top, and the ten per cent at the bottom. We would see such a flowering of energy and creativity as to endanger the health of most of our present social institutions. And that would never do.