The medical supremacist attitude is typical of most MDs who think their degree stands for “Minor Deity,” as attorney George McAndrews stated, describing the fomentation of this elitist attitude at medical schools that teach their students, “If we don’t teach it, then you don’t need to know it.”
This supremacist attitude was revealed again recently when The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed article on alternative medicine that provoked angry responses from medical professionals who couldn’t bear the thought that there might be a need or legitimate alternatives to modern medicine.
This article on alternative methods by leading spokesmen within the medical profession, Deepak Chopra, MD, Dean Ornish, MD, Andrew Weill, MD, and Rustum Roy, PhD. “‘Alternative’ Medicine is Mainstream” made the case that an integrative, diet-and-lifestyle approach can curb our sky-high medical bills and cure our costly medical ills for chronic illnesses.
“Our ‘health-care system’ is primarily a disease-care system. Last year, $2.1 trillion was spent in the U.S. on medical care, or 16.5% of the gross national product. Of these trillions, 95 cents of every dollar was spent to treat disease after it had already occurred. At least 75% of these costs were spent on treating chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes that are preventable or even reversible.
“The choices are especially clear in cardiology. In 2006, for example, according to data provided by the American Heart Association, 1.3 million coronary angioplasty procedures were performed at an average cost of $48,399 each, or more than $60 billion; and 448,000 coronary bypass operations were performed at a cost of $99,743 each, or more than $44 billion. In other words, Americans spent more than $100 billion in 2006 for these two procedures alone.
“Despite these costs, a randomized controlled trial published in April 2007 in The New England Journal of Medicine found that angioplasties and stents do not prolong life or even prevent heart attacks in stable patients (i.e., 95% of those who receive them). Coronary bypass surgery prolongs life in less than 3% of patients who receive it. So, Medicare and other insurers and individuals pay billions for surgical procedures like angioplasty and bypass surgery that are usually dangerous, invasive, expensive and largely ineffective. Yet they pay very little — if any money at all — for integrative medicine approaches that have been proven to reverse and prevent most chronic diseases that account for at least 75% of health-care costs. The INTERHEART study, published in September 2004 in The Lancet, followed 30,000 men and women on six continents and found that changing lifestyle could prevent at least 90% of all heart disease.”
According to the article, 75 to 78% of our nation’s health care costs are directly due to chronic diseases. They discuss the scientific basis of making wise diet and lifestyle changes to prevent and even treat chronic diseases. Despite this sage advice, critics decried their notion. The Journal published a series of letters to the editor in response to the article on alternative medicine. Some of the letters, two of them written by MDs, essentially accused the article’s authors of eschewing medical procedures like angioplasty and stenting for an acute myocardial infarction.
They rejected the notion that alternative medicine is even remotely acceptable: “The only reason such practices are becoming mainstream is due to the fact that our populace is scientifically illiterate….Only a scientifically literate populace can combat this quackery.”
What the letters to the editor uniformly failed to grasp from the original article is that integrative is already use by millions of Americans for their own health as Eisenberg had previously shown nearly 20 years ago.
Here are a few of the more entertaining letters to the editor:
- “It was disappointing to see you featuring the somewhat medieval thinking of Deepak Chopra and his friends…The fact of the matter is that this article is largely devoted to promoting a rather tired form of new age mystical medicine that, by and large, doesn’t do what is claimed for it. They are defending an industry that is very profitable but largely fraudulent…No doubt the authors would like to believe that “Alternative medicine is mainstream”, but it is not, for the simple reason that the only reason for the label “alternative” is that it consists of treatments that have not been shown to work. If they had, they would not be “alternative medicine” they would just be medicine.” David Colquhoun
- “An embarrassment to the journals standards. This article flies in the face of any good science. These cranks make enough money self-publishing their snake oil. Why is it necessary to support them in mainstream journalism?” asks Matthew Bakin.
- “Our “sick care” system is crippled with a fee-for-intervention structure that rewards costly medical interventions, generating the fourth and sixth causes of death in the US (inadvertent drug and hospital errors and infections). The entire system is defined by and dominated by a broken insurance payor industry that is rife with excessive overhead, inappropriate profit, fragmentation and injustice. As former President Bill Clinton said, “The tail of the dog–the insurance system in America–is wagging the dog…it’s all backwards.” Meg Jordan, PhD, RN
- “Newsflash: Modern medicine is about what works. Alternative medicine is about everything that sounds good but cannot be proved.” Anand Venkat
- If “alternative medicine” is mainstream then it is only because of ignorance by the “mainstream”…The vast majority of uses of both of these “therapies” have been shown, through double blind scientific studies, to be ineffective at best and harmful at worst.” Keven Norris
- “I am distressed by the high minded statements of the ‘Alternative’ Medicine IS Mainstream article. The authors rightly state that disease prevention and health maintenance is the ultimate answer to the rising costs of medical care and the epidemic of chronic disease that we are experiencing…The alternative/integrative medicine industry has profited greatly from the sale of placebos (acupuncture), ineffective treatments (homeopathy, chelation, therapeutic touch, aroma therapy, etc., etc.) and unproven, valueless, unregulated herbs and supplements, which at times have proven toxic and even lethal. Their alternative/integrative promises – growing many neurons in the brain, getting rid of wrinkles, more stamina, improved sex, sound like the promises of snake oil.” Carl Bartecchi, M.D.
- “As a beneficiary of alternative medical treatments for over 30 years, I can attest to the efficacy of these methods. Dr. Chopra hit the nail on the head when he said we don’t have health care in the U.S. we have disease care. The common argument of those who dismiss the success of alternative medicine as nothing but the placebo effect is disingenuous. If there is a placebo effect, then an individual can self-heal their own body – an ‘alternative’ phenomena that by itself legitimizes scientific study of non-traditional health care.” Dennis Morrow
- “Integrative medicine is not an “alternative” but quite simply the best practice of medicine –as these distinguished doctors point out. It’s time to face reality and diversify our investment in health care to include approaches that will improve health and cut costs long term. We need to do this both for the sake of our health and for the sake of our economy.” Alison Rose Levy
I found the statement by Keven Norris to be particularly ironic: “If ‘alternative medicine’ is mainstream then it is only because of ignorance by the ‘mainstream’…The vast majority of uses of both of these ‘therapies’ have been shown, through double blind scientific studies, to be ineffective at best and harmful at worst.”
Undoubtedly he illustrates not only a supremacist attitude, “we’re right, everyone else is wrong who doesn’t agree with us,” but he also show the intransigence of the medical profession to change, even when there are scientific studies that criticize standard medical treatments as we chiropractors have seen in the back pain industry where numerous recommendations urge conservative care over drugs, shots and surgery, but that has fallen on deaf ears.
Every chiropractor can remember the days not so long ago when spinal manipulation was criticized in similar terms—“unproven, experimental, dangerous,” to name but a few of the epithets thrown our way by medical supremacists. Of course, since 1990 when the avalanche of international research began to show conservative care was equivalent or superior to anything the medical world had to offer, the same supremacists became strangely quiet in attacking their own ineffective methods.
Although allopathic medicine has an important place in healthcare, especially in the heroic emergency room care, but there has been neither a procedure, wonder drug or surgery that has cured any chronic disease, which is the area that chiropractic and alternative healthcare has filled with treatments intended to get “to the cause” of the problem rather than treating the symptoms. Indeed, allopathic medicine has ignored the “ounces of prevention” preferring to capitalize on the “pound of cure.”
It is time to move beyond the debate of alternative medicine versus traditional medicine. It is time to listen to consumers who want the best of care; it is time to protect the right of the practitioner to practice and the right of the consumer to choose.
Dr. Andrew Weil, founder of the University of Arizona’s School of Integrative Medicine, commented on this trend to CAM, “The public has been on board for some time. The professionals are harder to win over.”
As long as this medical supremacy attitude prevails, they will continue to be intransigent to CAM or any treatment that competes for patients and for profit.
 Eisenberg DM, Kessler RC, Foster C, Norlock FE, Calkins DR, Delbanco TL. Unconventional medicine in the United States — prevalence, costs, and patterns of use. N Engl J Med 1993;328:246-252.
 Julie Deardorff, “More mainstream physicians turning to alternative treatments,” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 26, 2009.