An Argument for Self-healing

From: Chapter 10 The Culture of Illness: Politics and Medicine

. . . programs often result in windfall profits for doctors. For example, in 1976 the Centers for Disease Control issued frightening warnings of a swine flu epidemic of holocaust proportions. As a result, 46 million people were vaccinated--and at $20 a shot--almost $1 billion was transferred from the pockets of the people to the pockets of the vaccine manufacturers and the doctors. No swine flu appeared, but some people died from the vaccination itself.
             The intentions of those who propose a national health care plan may also be laudable, but lacking such a program, an estimated 40 million people who are presently uninsured think twice about visiting a doctor and tend to their minor problems themselves. If health care were free, hangnails would be an illness. A national health care plan would generate huge new profits for the medical industry at the same time as it would intensify the “sickness consciousness” of the nation,” (70).
             A “sickness-conscious society” is, in Ivan Illich’s words, “a glaring example of 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.” Innocently perpetuated by people who have themselves been snared by the pervasive influence of the medical industry the “device” becomes internalized at an early age and continues throughout life, growing ever stronger and inescapable. For example, take my three-year-old granddaughter’s book, Baby Bop Pretends. The book continues the corruption of my granddaughter’s mind that began at her birth. The picture book introduces tots to a variety of people’s occupations--teachers, dancers, firefighters, and others--by describing what they do. What it says about doctors is not that they examine you, not that they give you medicine: It says, “Doctors make you healthy.” They don’t “see” if you are healthy. The don’t even “keep” you healthy. They make you healthy--which of course implies that you are or certainly will be sick, and that a doctor may save you.
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             The government’s attitude toward faith healing is more overtly antagonistic than its attitude toward alternative medicine. The literature of religious groups contains testimonies of uncountable numbers of people who have been healed without medical intervention. Yet neither the medical establishment nor the government has attempted a systematic “scientific” investigation of the validity of these claims. Quite the opposite. Christian Scientists and other faith healers are often prosecuted. When faith healing practiced on a child doesn’t work, the entire society feels outrage and the government brings criminal charges against the parents or the faith healer, (71). Headlines scream, “In Treating Sick Children, Prayer Is Not Enough!”  “Child Dies Without Medical Treatment!” No headline ever proclaims, “Conventional Medical Treatment Administered: Child Dies!”
             If criminal charges are laid upon people whose children die after using faith healing, why aren’t criminal charges laid upon doctors whose child patients die in the course of conventional treatment? The answer of course is that the state, with its vast armamentarium of money, law, and the media, fully supports conventional medicine and holds it to be right and good, whereas heterodox healing methods are held to be wrong and bad, deserving of only token funding from government agencies.
            Together, government, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance companies create a cultural mindset that is almost impossible to break out of. The state does not give economic preference to one religion over another, but it does supply huge funds for a certain type of medical treatment. Our democracy has separation of church and state; but there is no separation of medicine and state.
             At the same time, there has never been a more thorough separation of church and health. Healing is completely secularized, and doctors are invested with the power once bestowed on priests, prophets, and shamans. Patients are expected to comply with the physician’s pronouncements; those who do not comply are “wrong” or “bad” (72), and, I might add, exceedingly rare. When Dr. Herbert Benson encouraged one of his patients to pray, the man answered that he had often wanted to pray but felt silly. “Now that you as a doctor say it’s okay, I’ll do it,” he said.

From: Chapter 18  Fighting Disease--a Losing Battle

             I have often been asked why, after eight years, I decided to have a lumpectomy. The answer is simple. A few months before the surgery, I began to fear the lump. I don’t know why, but I do know that the unconscious mind turns fears into causes--fear, in and of itself, initiates disease; if my fear remained, the lump would have to be removed.
             But for eight years the lump and I were on good terms; I felt a kind of friendship toward it, as one might feel toward a spider that has taken up residence in the corner of the room. At times I regarded it almost affectionately. I patted it--it was faintly visible to the naked eye and easily discernible to the touch--and I was willing to allow it to be part of me, provided it didn’t overstep its bounds. I even talked to it: “Little lump everything has a role in God’s scheme of things, so there must be a reason you’re still here.” Or, at times when I was in a magnanimous mood, “Who is to say my life is more valuable than yours? Let us agree to live compatibly. Just stay where and as you are. Don’t attempt to take more lebenstaum, and we can live in peace together.”
             I believed then, and since then my belief has been strengthened and validated, that everything in our lives serves a purpose--not excepting that lump in my breast. We call forth events and conditions because we need them: They serve us in one way or another, and the lump served me in many ways--some I understood at the time, some I have gained insight into over the years.
            First of all, the lump prevented me from thinking that what had taken place was a miracle. If the physical sign of cancer had disappeared at the time of my mystical revelation, I would have been tempted to believe God had intervened. Instead, the lump exhorted me to consider other possibilities about the relationship between God, myself, and my health.
             It also kept me humble. After the revelation (during which I kept asking, Why me?) I felt specially chosen. I was God’s avatar; I was a new Jesus. Was I supposed to fast for 40 days? Climb a mountain? Proclaim to the world that I had seen God? “Don’t be so proud” the lump admonished me. “many have seen God.”
             And it questioned my readiness to speak to the world. It warned me that before I thoroughly understood my healing, my story might do more harm than good. It advised me to wait for the right time and the right way to deliver the good news that we hold our own health in our own hands.
             The waiting was not easy. God had given me an assignment but had not given instructions for fulfilling it. I often felt guilty and helpless; I was supposed to do something, but what? The lump’s presence sometimes frightened me into holding my tongue, other times dared me to have the courage to speak out in spite of its presence. I tried to console myself with John Milton’s famous words, “He also serves who only stands and waits.” I reminded myself that we never know the effects of our actions--what may seem like an insignificant act of kindness, a stray word, a feeling of love toward someone or some thing may reverberate to the good of the universe more forcefully than what appears to be grand and notable. So while I “stood and waited,” I tried to practice these small acts, and I found that making my life a small model of the good was far more difficult than writing this book.
             But now, as I write this book, I am sure the lump had to be there for another reason. Had it disappeared there would be no way to “prove” I had cancer. The typical reaction of most people would have been skepticism; either my imagination or my veracity would have been suspect. The original biopsy report would be attributed to error--a misreading of the results or a mix-up of my breast tissue with another’s. Had the lump vanished, no second doctor, eight years later, would have confirmed the diagnosis. In short, I needed the lump, which is another way of saying I wanted it. It supplied me with irrefutable material evidence upon which to base the message of this book.
             I take it as an infallible principle that life delivers to you what you want. Having said that, I admit that sometimes it is not easy to figure out what you want, what you really want hides under layers of “the right thing” to want. That hiding from our subconscious desires is, of course, the whole basis of psychoanalysis.
             But what you really want sends strong signals from underground. The signals take the form of discrepancies between what you think you want and what you get. You claim to want health yet you are sick, to crave love yet are lonely, to attain economic comfort yet are poor.  . . . .

Back-cover page and where to buy:
FAITH AND THE PLACEBO EFFECT: An Argument for Self-healing