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Biblical Reflections on Modern Medicine

Vol. 8, No. 3 (45) 

Contents:


Christian Bioethics Grows Like Kudzu...
and
... Embraces the Angel of Light!

Over the holidays of July 4, 1981, I wrote the outline and summary for my first book, Biblical/Medical Ethics. Over the next 3 years, I searched book lists, bibliographies, journals, periodicals, and asked many people for writings on medical ethics by Christians. 

Roman Catholics had the best material, having a tradition in medical ethics. Articles and books by Protestants (other than the subject of abortion) were scarce. And, unfortunately, what had been written was more secular than Christian (Biblical).

Mostly, I took the Roman Catholic principles which had been produced by their melding of Scripture, tradition, and Church authority, tested them by Biblical theology and ethics, and thereby developed "Biblical medical ethics." Over these 16 years have come four books, ten years of the Journal of Biblical Ethics in Medicine, six years of an AIDS newsletter, eight years of this Reflections, and various articles in other publications.

I Am Not Alone Any More!

One critic of Biblical/Medical Ethics suggested that I wrote as a "voice crying in the wilderness." That is, I wrote as though I were the only one writing such material. His impression was accurate. No one at that time had produced anything substantial on what I call Biblical medical ethics. But, I was not alone as far as Biblical ethics was concerned. Gordon Clark, Carl F. H. Henry, John Murray, and many other evangelical theologians had developed sound Biblical principles that I could apply to medicine. Occasionally, I found specific medical applications, like a short section in Henry Stob's Ethical Reflections.

In 1985, John Jefferson Davis wrote, Evangelical Ethics, which focused mostly on medical ethical issues. Since then, a few other noteworthy books have been written: John Frame's Medical Ethics, the Finebergs' Ethics for a Brave New World, and J. Robertson McQuilkin's An Introduction to Biblical Ethics.

However, for the most part, Christians working in and writing on medical ethics is no longer a wasteland. Their works and organizations are proliferating like kudzu* -- and at least one seems more the work of the Angel of Light.

Spiritual Healing Practices

Recently, I received a brochure for "Spirituality and Healing in Medicine - II," a conference that focuses on the "positive" benefits of "spiritual" approaches in medicine. At least one key figure (and I think, several others) in this endeavor is David B. Larson, M.D., a professing Christian who has compiled research on the health and healing benefits of "spiritual" practices, primarily Christianity.

Other "spiritual" practices include Jewish, (Roman) Catholic, Islamic, Hispanic-Pentecostal, Christian Science, Buddhist, African, and others. What, pray tell, does the God of Truth have to do with most of these "spiritual" practices. "Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?" (II Corinthians 6:16, NASB -- read the other verses in that context).

Dr. Larson and other leaders of this conference rejoice that medicine is finally recognizing the medical benefits of "spirituality." But, I challenge them. Is gaining acceptance for the heresy of Christian Science, the paganism of African spirituality, or the Eastern darkness of Buddhism a righteous goal for Christians? Such an eclectic approach is more an entry for the Angel of Light than the Triune God.

Dr. Larson heads an organization called the National Institute of Healthcare Research. Organizations in his "network" include the Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS), Christian Legal Society, Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, Nurses Christian Fellowship, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

In the past, you have heard my criticisms of CMDS and the bioethics center. It seems that the more "Christian" medical ethics grows, the worse it gets. It is becoming an eclectic mish-mash that seems to welcome anyone but those with clear and sound Biblical principles.

But, then, multiculturalism is a major theme of modern culture. Let me make it simple. Every person and belief is either pro-Christ or anti-Christ. Jesus said, "He who is not for me is against me."

Few (truly) evangelical leaders either have the discernment and/or the courage to challenge any other leader. Virtually, anything goes as "Christian." At one time the World Council of Churches and other liberal "Christians" were the enemy of the Gospel. Now, the enemy is fellow professing evangelicals. In fact, we may have run out of labels, as "evangelical" can mean almost anything today. However, we still have "Biblical." Few seem to want that label.

In my early days in medical ethics, I felt very much alone in my efforts. Suddenly, in 15 years, there is a glut of books, conferences, and organizations on "Christian" medical ethics. 

In the beginning, there was little to refute and much to build. Today, refutation is impossible, simply on the basis of volume. And, what has been built are multi-cultural towers of Babel that obscure the small structures of truth that have been built.

I will press on as one "still small voice" (along with a few others). Not only do I pray for bold and righteous leaders, but condemnation on those who blur the Light. They will reap what they sow. 

* This reference to kudzu is my second. Kudzu was imported into the South to prevent erosion. It is a rapidly growing and spreading vine. It literally covers tall trees and abandoned buildings. It is unedible by any mammal and has no food value. Not only is it worthless apart from its original purpose, it is a threat to other valuable vegetation.

Brief Reports with Commentary

Dr. Kevorkian Is Pre-Occupied With Death

Dr. Jack Kevorkian is not only a practicing pathologist and assistant to suicides, he does oil paintings. His subjects are "severed heads, moldering skulls, and rotting corpses." Also, a compact disk will soon be released with his music, "A Very Still Life: The Kevorkian Suite." (UFL Pro Vita, May 1997, p. 2)

Commentary: Dr. Kevorkian is not just another physician helping others to end their suffering. He is severely pre-occupied with death. His state of mind is obvious to anyone who sees through the thin veneer of his "compassion." 

That he gets widespread support is an indictment of our culture. Any society with common decency would recognize him as the aberrant person that he is. It is a strange quirk of humanity (and an irony of Providence) that such people become leaders of movements that cause widespread death and destruction. They are not only political leaders like Stalin and Hitler, but idealists and practitioners of aberrant thinking. When God goes, anything goes.

The Population Doomsayers May Have It Backward: Tragic Irony

"Stephen Mosher (president of Population Research Institute, writing in the Wall Street Journal, February 10, 1997) told of the U.S. Census Bureau reporting that the globe's population grew by only 79.6 million in 1996, adding, 'It is around 20 million less than the 100 million figure alarmists like Vice President Algore were tossing around until recently'.... (Mosher) saw (sic) population peaking at 7 billion or so in 2030 and then begin (sic) a long descent. He concludes, 'Humanity's long-term problem is not going to be too many children, but too few." (UFL Pro Vita, May 1997, p. 3)

Commentary: Beginning with Malthus is the 18th century, the projections of population doomsayers have all been wrong. Mankind is quite creative in devising its own limitations and destruction. More mass killing has taken place in the 20th century than all the previous centuries combined. The more man becomes "civilized" (without God), the more he becomes barbarian.

One thoroughgoing message of the Bible is that "life" is a creation and provision of God. Not just "abundant" life that we Christians are fond of saying -- but plain earthy physical life as well. 

No, man cannot live either physically or spiritually "by bread alone." God is life. Any direction or action apart from Him brings death. Not only is death the result of the "wages of sin," but also idealist thinking that excludes God.

It is a tragic irony. Man's greatest fear is death (Hebrews 2:15), yet the more he tries to achieve life without God, the more he finds death. With the same technical achievements that advance modern medicine, abortions by the millions are the solution to inconvenient pregnancies. With the idealist thinking of utopian dreamers, millions (billions?) have died. A song of the '60s has this verse, "When will they ever learn, When will they e-v-e-r learn?" Only in the afterlife, when it is too late.

The EPA Jumps the Gun -- Again

In a paper in the June 7, 1996, issue of Science, John MacLachlan of Tulane University reported the dangers of synergism (enhanced effects of one chemical by another) of "endocrine disrupters" (hormone-like estrogenic substances) that included breast cancer, prostate cancer, and birth defects. The study became headline news around the country. The EPA with the support of Congress "quickly mandated further chemical screening and testing."

"But hold on. According to the most recent meeting of the Society of Toxicology... so far, not one of five separate laboratory teams can replicate MacLachlan's synergistic effects." (Vital Stats, May 1997, p. 2)

Commentary: Are you getting as tired as I am of hearing that everything that we eat poses some hazard? (I literally mean "everything," as I think every food substance and additive has at some time been attacked.) While I can tolerate the hyperbole of the press, the regulations upon which such reports are based pose a far greater hazard to life and property than the "toxins" themselves. The government "protected" us with seat-belts and children died. The government mandated the removal of asbestos from buildings and caused more morbidity and mortality than leaving it alone would have. And the beat goes on.

Too Much Juice Is Just the Right Amount

"For the past 30-40 years, fruit-juice consumption by infants and young children has increased. Surveys show that by 12 months of age, 90% of infants consume fruit juices. Children under five consume more juice than any other age group, an average of nine gallons per child per year."

Safe Consumption Guidelines. ... (The introduction of juices should occur) near the end of the first year of age in most infants, once they are eating more solid foods. A serving of three to four ounces a day is sufficient at this time and meets vitamin C requirements. (Update Nutrition, May/June 1997, pp. 1-2)

Commentary: Wow! Nine gallons a year. What a quantity! Dangerous.

Uh, let's see. Nine gallons is 1152 ounces, divided by 365 days in one year. The answer is 3.16 ounces in a day. Too much or just right?

Yes, dear readers, this is the actual update from the Family Health Branch of the Division of Public Health, Georgia Department of Human Resources, entitled, "How Much Is Too Much?"

Do you ever wonder if some bureaucrats just have too much time on their hands and have to create busy-work for themselves? I can just see a parent dragged into the Department of Family and Children Services for giving her child too much juice -- whatever that amount is. (I wish I were being facetious, but the real danger is there!)

Cancer Mortality Rates Are Declining: Another Pillar for Modern Medicine

"Death rates from cancer have begun to decline after decades of continuous rise, according to a study by UAB (University of Alabama - Birmingham) epidemiologist Philip Cole, MD, and oral pathologist Brad Rodu, DDS. The two explain in their report published in Cancer that cancer deaths declined 3.1% between 1990 and 1995. The general reasons for the decline include: earlier diagnosis, better therapies, and targeted education about prevention. More specifically, 40% of the decline results from smoking cessation efforts." (UAB Insight, Spring 1997, p. 6)

Commentary: The war on cancer began in the late 1960s. Until this report, we were losing. Now, we are winning, thanks to modern medicine. Or, are we?

Diseases wax and wane for unexplainable reasons. Rheumatic fever became rare before the common use of antibiotics to treat "strept throat," its precursor. Tuberculosis virtually disappeared before effective antibiotics were available. Atherosclerosis of the heart arteries has declined out of proportion to preventive and treatment efforts.

But, modern medicine gets credit for the "wanes" and gets research monies for the "waxes." Take away the "wanes" and modern medicine might be found to be an emperor with no clothes.

But, cancer is a multi-factorial problem. Perhaps, the decline is real. Perhaps, medicine has contributed. However, "a British review," casually mentioned in the above article, reported that "advances in medical care were minimal contributors." The article itself attributed 40% of the decline to smoking cessation. Stay tuned.

From the Late, Great Mike Royko: Insight into Encounter Groups

From a letter and answer column by the late Mike Royko. (Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1997, Section 1, p. 3)

"ANN SPAETH, NICEVILLE, FLA: I have read your columns relating to late-term abortions. I have been waiting for someone to address the ridiculous aspect of a bunch of MEN piously denouncing abortion.

"The problem is, neither you nor these other men have a clue as to what is involved in carrying an unwanted child, nor will you ever do so.

"COMMENT: True, a man doesn't know what it is like to bear a child. On the other hand, I don't know a woman who knows what it feels like to have a hole poked in the base of her skull and her brains sucked out, although some talk as if they might have experienced it."

Commentary: Mr. Royko skewered the prevalent notion that no one can know how another person feels until they have experienced the same situation himself or herself (to be fair to Ann Spaeth).

"Whoa, Ed," you say. "What relevance is that to Biblical Reflections." The growth of special encounter groups is based upon the notion that only others with a similar experience can comfort each other. And, these groups among Christians are growing by leaps and bounds. There are groups for grief, exercise, weight reduction, singles-never-married, singles-divorced, drug and alcohol "addiction," etc., etc.

In the early 1970s, Jay Adams wrote on life-dominating problems in his Christian Counselor's Manual. All life-dominating problems are similar in their effects and how they ought to be dealt with. Saint Paul wrote, "No temptation has taken you except [what is] human; but God [is] faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able. But with the temptation, [He] will also make the way out, so that you may be able to bear [it]." (I Corinthians 10:13, LITV).

Terrell's Treatises

"Report Cards," Outpatient Medicine, and Alternative Medicine

Hilton Terrell, M.D., Ph.D.

I am receiving more and more "report cards" from payers for medical services. A recent one was a novelty. It appears that the state of South Carolina (where I am licensed and practice) is trying to raise physician awareness of the costs of home health services expended on Medicare patients. I have a few observations on the matter.

(1) They listed me as having ordered only one set of services in the form of 19 visits for speech therapy. I have no recollection of this record and a very low view of the general proven effectiveness of speech therapy. I can find little in the way of evidence for its usefulness. Point: the report cards I receive are full of enormous holes in accuracy, relevance, and comprehensiveness. They often miss the point. I nearly always look very "good," i.e., cheap, on these reports. Nevertheless, I am aware of the many assumptions that underlie comparisons of this kind.

(2) The state of South Carolina recently notified primary care physicians that we could bill for our supposed oversight of the home health services we are authorizing. The accompanying explanation of what was required to substantiate a bill and the limitations on what could be billed for, as well as the amounts they paid, took away with the left hand what the right hand gave. To establish what they wanted for billing would consume in billing costs what they would pay, leaving the physician still unpaid for the oversight.

(3) One of the selling points of home health is that it costs less than hospitalization or nursing home care. One of the reasons that it does cost less, however, is that nursing home care and hospitalizations carry a burden of regulatory review and the like that enormously raises the expense. Now, we may see the regulators extending their scope to home health and office practice, such as they did with Certified Laboratory Improvement Act. The costs for provision of care in outpatient settings is rising. 

Point: the problem is not the particular regulations or the administration of them, it is the whole idea of regulation by others than the recipients of the services. It is the king's horsemen riding through the marketplace, overturning tables, pulling down the awnings, seizing the scales, and breaking open the animal pens. It is a struggle for power. The regulators push to usurp power over simple, personal, economic decisions. The sheer number of these transactions, the private nature of them, and the uncertainties (as to value and benefit) require that these transactions be determined between the physician and patient. For regulators to strive for conditions to be otherwise is to strive to be omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. They want to be God.

(4) The advance of regulators and price-fixers into the practice of orthodox outpatient medicine will stimulate the growth of the already-thriving "alternative medicine" fields. One of the chief attractions of alternative medicine is the freedom enjoyed by the practitioners. As long as the practitioners are willing to stay on the outside of the fence of conventional respectability, big organization, and big bucks, they will be free. (None of this, of course, speaks to the issue of effectiveness of the alternatives, which I doubt.) Their patients feel free. Is this the reason for the recent moves by organized medicine to establish a beachhead in alternative medicine? Does organized medicine want to court, corral, and then control the freedom-lovers in alternative medicine?

This possible tactic reminds me of the matter of government-paid vouchers for use in private education. If the statists were smart, they would support the idea. Once they had control of the money, they could begin to dictate private education. Rather than building private education, the effect would be to transform private education into public education. Though I am conventional enough to have a low view of the general effectiveness of alternative medicine, I support the desirability of having some kind of competition on the field for the mainstream. The flight to alternatives reminds the monied insiders that they are not God, reminds the patients of the desirability of freedom, and even threatens the hegemony of the FDA over "what works." If the proponents of alternative medicine, many of whom seem to be Christian, are smart, they will resist overtures by conventional medicine to become part of the in-group. 


The FDA Opens the Gates in Its Own Dam -- At a Price!

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), much criticized in recent years for causing inordinate delays in the marketing of new drugs, developed a few years ago a fast track system to help solve the problem. It can charge the applicant pharmaceutical companies if they want their drugs reviewed more rapidly through "user fees." They expect to collect about a third of a billion dollars over a five-year period through this program.

Ordinarily, user fees are to be preferred, lodging as they do the costs closer to where the demands and benefits are, while sparing those who don't use the service. Taxes on gasoline are somewhat similar, in that the more gasoline you purchase the more you likely use the roads upon which those gasoline taxes are (supposedly) spent. 

The "user fee" concept, however, is not quite a good fit for this action of the FDA. A better analogy would be to imagine an existing highway, representing the development and marketing of medications by private producers of pharmaceuticals. The manufacturers built and maintained the road. 

Then, one day, the FDA is created and begins to repair the highway -- closing lanes, requiring bridges to be rebuilt, and holding up traffic while the wording on the road signs is changed to suit their fancy. Traffic backs up. An FDA official walks down the line of idling vehicles and tells you that, for a fee, you will be allowed to move through a special lane set aside for you. Otherwise, you will sit for a long time. This is not truly a "user fee," because the FDA is not fulfilling an existing market demand. Rather, the agency is creating a demand through its oppression of a market. The demand is for relief from the oppression.

One way to evaluate the favorable reaction of the drug companies to this "user fee" is that it feels so good when your pain is reduced that you can forget who it was that caused your pain. The howls of the pharmaceutical industry are not to be taken as completely genuine. The pharmaceutical industry really would not want to function without the FDA, since it has the effect of granting that industry a monopoly on producing medications by protecting the companies from competition from smaller would-be producers. Only the really big boys can play the game, since the FDA's regulations raise the cost of development and marketing of medicines to very high levels. These costs are recouped from the consumer, who has fewer recourses for medicine in this controlled market. Large drug companies have done exceptionally well for themselves in this system.

Viewed from an FDA angle, the user fee plan cuts that agency in for a piece of the spoils of the pharmaceutical industry. It sounds harsh, but this system is redolent of economic fascism. A powerful central government grants certain favors to an industry, and in return that industry bows to considerable regulation and control. The tax money tap which funded the central government's power now has a faltering flow. It couldn't supply enough and a large backlog of profitable drugs had accumulated behind the FDA's blockade. Money was being lost and some political liabilities were accumulating for the government. What better place to go to make up the difference and look like a rescuer than to the spoils of the favored industry?

What authorization is there in Scripture for Caesar to act in such a fashion as this? Does such regulation constitute "the punishment of evildoers?"

AIDS: Issues and Answers

Vol. 11, No. 3 (70) May 1997

Life Insurance for Those Infected With HIV

"Guarantee Trust Life Insurance, a Glenview- (Illinois) based company that specializes in insuring high-risk individuals, is test marketing the coverage (of life insurance to people infected with HIV). 'From a life insurance risk perspective, we believe many otherwise healthy HIV-positive individuals are more appropriately viewed as having a treatable chronic illness rather than a terminal disease,' said Richard Holson, president of the 60-year-old company." 

"A fairly healthy 30-year-old man who doesn't smoke would pay about $55 a month for a $50,000 universal life policy, said Monty Edson, Guarantee Trust senior vice president for marketing. If that same person were HIV positive, the policy would cost about $300 a month. (The Augusta Chronicle, April 16, 1997, p. 12A)

Commentary: There has to be more to this story than appears in the article (not printed in its entirety above). With almost 70 percent of new AIDS cases occurring in homosexuals or IV-drug abusers, a life expectancy that would cause Guarantee Trust to break even is quite optimistic. I suspect that this company will shift funds within its own policies to cover this high-risk population or will participate in some high-risk pool with other companies, as it gives favoritism to people with HIV. Sometimes, these shifts are mandated by state law.

I don't know the details. I am just suspicious.

More Realism in HIV Reporting

"The HIV Prevention Act, introduced this month by Rep. Tom Coburn, MD, (R-Okla.) will be the first attempt in the 105th Congress to test whether ... medical advances provide enough policy-changing momentum to mandate that HIV be treated like other epidemics.

"These treatments offer many people with HIV the potential to control the disease possible with other chronic conditions, such as diabetes." (American Medical News, March 24/31, 1997, pp. 1, 31)

Commentary: The efficacy of increased longevity by new drugs for HIV/AIDS is an optimistic projection of current studies, not proven research. Yet, for the first time, AIDS advocates and AIDS realists may be on the same side of the mandatory reporting issue. While tracking and control is not the goal of this proposed new law, its effect will be the reporting that ought to have been present since HIV/AIDS was proven to be a sexually transmitted disease.

If Your Condom Breaks, Go to the ER!

"From the limited data available, it appears that the risk of HIV infection after one episode of anal or vaginal intercourse or sharing a syringe exposed to HIV is roughly the same as after an occupational needle stick: 0.3 percent (1 in 333 occurrences).

"Now that health care workers are offered anti-HIV drugs after needle-sticks, shouldn't prophylaxis be available to people exposed through sex or intravenous drug use?" (Family Practice News, March 1, 1997, p. 20)

Commentary: Why not have ERs offer such prophylaxis for HIV? After all, ERs now offer post-coital pregnancy "prevention" (actually early abortion) medically. The message is, "If people aren't responsible, let's offer a safety net for whatever they do." After all, is not HIV/AIDS and our management how our society is defined?

One interviewee was more in touch with reality about proposed research for this idea. "The idea of 12,000 post-coital people racing to the emergency room to get post-exposure treatment or a placebo was a bit bizarre!" 

I would add, "Quite bizarre indeed!"

Pessimism in the Treatment of HIV/AIDS

Despite "extremely encouraging results," there are strong reasons for "uncertainty" and "caution."

  • "Few patients have been studied for longer than 2 years."

  • "These drugs do not work for all people."

  • "Many patients have serious side effects which prevent them from 
    taking the drugs."

  • "The long term consequences of taking these drugs for many years is 
    unknown."

  • "These drugs are extremely expensive (approximately $12,000 per year)" 
    (And we thought that AZT was expensive! -- Ed)

  • These drugs will have complex interactions with each other.

  • "HIV can develop resistance to each of the new drugs."

  • "Persons at risk may be misled into reverting to unsafe behaviors."

Commentary: In their own words, these are significant reasons to question the current optimism of HIV/AIDS treatment and to attribute a decreased mortality rate among HIV/AIDS patients -- a decrease that does not include women and heterosexual men.

Letters-to-Ed

More on Alternative Medicine

Dear Ed:

You asked an interesting question in your March 1997 Reflections - "Where are the hospitals and emergency rooms of alternative medicine?

"First, I would like to note that in 1900, there were 22 colleges of homeopathic medicine, over 100 homeopathic hospitals, and about 15,000 homeopathic pharmacists. When I went through pharmacy school in the late '30s in Baltimore, we had half a dozen or so homeopathic pharmacies in the city and were given instruction in the preparation and use of homeopathic medications. Talking to homeopathic physicians of that time and even after I came to Richmond explains clearly to me why we don't have homeopathic hospitals today.

In a nutshell, government regulations and members of the allopathic American Medical Association and Boards of Medicine were all exerting pressure to squeeze these people out of "unscientific" medical practice. Power makes right, you know! Most of the homeopathic physicians were denied practice privileges in mainline hospitals following the squeezing out of the homeopathic hospitals by regulation and the great move to improve medical education in the early 1900s. And certainly, the discovery of nitrous oxide, bacteria, general anesthesia, salvarsan, and antibiotics were major factors!

Today, the alternative people have their hospitals in "clinics" and "hotels" and retreat centers around the country. Every alternative practitioner knows that cancer treatment brings the wrath of the establishment on them and most of these are overseas, offshore, or in Mexico. You say they don't treat because it is "bad for business." Indeed, one cancer patient dying in an alternative setting seems to generate all kinds of pressure to get those quacks out of there so people can get their cancers "healed" in "approved" hospitals (or die there).

I agree that the efficacy of alternative medicine is no more proved than mainline medicine (Ed's emphasis). However, most alternative practitioners have an approach to medical practice that is totally different from that which you and I were taught. They usually take into account the total person, body, soul, and spirit, and unfortunately many get into non-Christian approaches. Moreover, they talk about health and seek to restore and maintain health instead of treating symptoms. Indeed, the approach to the whole person seems to have been lost in modern scientific medicine, which may be one reason why behaviors are medicalized.

Reflectively, I find much of this discourse very sad. Hospitals historically have had a strong Christian interface. Today, the Catholics and Adventists still have a presence, but it is hard to tell much difference between some of these and secular institutions. I wonder how much accreditation and professional pressure has to do with what one can do in a hospital?

I find it interesting, too, that you say mainline medicine has "some semblance of science." Here again, you are in a "catch 22" situation when you practice alternative medicine. The "science" now required to prove efficacy is so expensive that the procedures and medications are never going to be approved. Of course, that is not required of surgery, since each case is an individual patient. Curiously, most physicians practice a kind of "alternative" medicine anyway. For years, surveys have shown that 25% of the prescriptions written for patients were for "unapproved" indications, which could be defined as "unscientific" or alternative.

I recognize that there is a place for conventional medicine, but I don't think you are being fair in saying that Christians who advocate alternatives are deceived. I am not even sure why you say that. I know several physicians who practice alternative medicine as well as conventional medicine, and I don't think they are deceived. Perhaps you meant that some of the practitioners have stepped into non-Christian philosophies as part of their alternative practice? Reflectively, my views may be tilted because medicine that was practiced when I was a youngster was mostly "alternative," and it is not clear to me that scientific medicine has done as much to improve life span or quality as it claims. Oh yes, I know about antibiotics and laser surgery, but I also know about 100,000 or more deaths incurred annually through medication misadventures, 15% of hospital beds occupied because of drug misuse and hospital infections incurred at a 10 to 15% rate. Maybe Lister strived in vain! Who knows?

I really enjoy Biblical Reflections. You are daring enough to talk about things that others won't and expose yourself to attack from others who hold equally strong opinions of a contrarian nature. I appreciate you and Hilton Terrell for your forthrightness and willingness to submit your ideas for digestion and reflection. God bless.

Sincerely,

Warren E. Weaver
Richmond, Virginia


Dear Ed:

Since I am under usual circumstances your biggest booster, I trust you will remember that the wounds of a friend are faithful as I bring these two criticisms.

First, in your March 1997 Biblical Reflections on page 2, I was astonished to read, "A person who is not in charge of his own destiny is a slave, that is, he is owned. The Biblical law recognizes voluntary slavery, because there are men who prefer security to freedom, but it strictly forbids involuntary slavery except as punishment" (R.J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 120).

This is a false statement. The Bible legitimizes slavery by conquest (warfare) for life of the aliens around the Hebrews, and children born to such slaves were also slaves for life. Nor do I know any place in the New Testament that overthrows involuntary slavery for life, even as it was practiced under the much more stringent Roman slave system. I can't help that Rushdoony said it, it's still false. Furthermore, what the slave-owner owned was not the slave, but the right to the slave's labor. It's an important distinction.

Second, you seem to be waging a war against alternative medicine ("Where Are the Hospitals and Emergency Rooms?", p.8). I believe you will agree that for every one victim of alternative medicine you can show, orthodox medicine can brag 100. The point is not alternative medicine or orthodox medicine, the point is, what is the truth? What works to heal? Why does government interfere with people's health decisions? Why does a certain group hold a monopoly on practicing medicine? The very reason alternative quacks make so much headway is that people don't trust the orthodox medical establishment (in addition to the sinful folly of man, of course). Some alternative people may be quacks, but so are lots of physicians, like the Memphis orthopedic surgeon I watched while I worked my way through college in surgery who used to come in drunk on Saturday mornings to do hip surgery on old ladies; like the Arkansas gynecologist who yanked out wombs from every woman he could deceive into worrying about her pre-cancerous condition -- whether it was pre-cancerous or not.

There is no point in multiplying these stories. I'm sure you have plenty about alternative practitioners, and so do I. But what makes people the willing victims of alternative medicine also makes them the willing victims of orthodox medicine, namely, the worship of someone or something other than the one true living God. Just on the meager basis of relative frequency, I believe there is a lot more idolatry of orthodox medicine in America than idolatry of alternative medicine.

Yours in the bonds of Christ,
Franklin Sanders
Memphis, Tennessee

Ed's Note on Letters

I stand wounded -- by friends -- as Mr. Sanders says. I withdraw my criticism of the lack of emergency rooms and hospitals run by alternative medicine because of restrictive and punitive state and federal laws.

Dr. Weaver brings a historical view that we moderns tend to forget, if we ever knew it. We can only imagine what the marketplace of medical and preventive treatments might look like today, if allopathic medicine had not been given state sanction. 

I do not think that we would have most of the antibiotics and other expensive drugs available today. We would not have MRIs and other expensive diagnostic and treatment machines. We may or may not have laser surgery and other highly technical procedures. Most or all of these have occurred because of state-protected or -funded endeavors. (See Dr. Terrell's treatise on the FDA.)

Mr. Sanders nails the bottom line that the victims of either alternative or orthodox medicine are such because they "worship someone or something other than the one true living God." Dr. Weaver laments that wholism has disappeared from allopathic medicine. But, while alternative medicine often seeks this wholism, it is often not that of the "one true and living God." In fact, as he suggests, alternatives may be occult and even frankly evil.

I think some of the criticism of these two letters was unwarranted. I challenge anyone to find someone Biblically oriented within allopathic medicine who has been more critical of it than I (and Dr. Terrell) have been. Neither the Christian Medical and Dental Society, The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, the Christian Medical Foundation, The Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, nor any other group or author (that I know of) have been so critical.have not.

Another bottom line is "some semblance of science" raised by Dr. Weaver. Yes, the Food and Drug Administration has raised the threshold for new drugs too high. However, remove the FDA and other regulatory bodies, and if there is no semblance of science in allopathic or alternative medicine, then we ought to do nothing for patients, for what we do is totally random.I have watched antibiotics destroy various infections. I have seen the injured walk and run again after severe and crippling accidents. I have seen severe anemias (low hemoglobin or red blood cell counts) restored to (more or less) normal from appropriate treatment. I have seen hyperthyroid (overactive thyroid gland) patients stabilized by medication and/or surgery. I saw my second grandson (Reflections, March 1997), safely delivered because of modern techniques and equipment.

Would these have occurred without modern medicine? I am very, very doubtful. Would some have had the same outcome with only alternative medicine? I am very, very doubtful.

I believe that with careful scrutiny of the medical literature and debate among Biblically wise physicians, a reliable, yes, scientific practice of allopathic medicine could emerge and be built upon. But, we are hampered by extreme biases and a lack of Biblical knowledge. We can't even agree on a Biblical faith or understanding of the mind and behavior.

What does alternative medicine have to offer? Frankly, I don't know. Within myriad approaches and treatments, there are likely some that are valid. But, they should not be advanced on anecdotal evidence alone. Neither must they meet the stringent criteria of the FDA. Somewhere in between, however, some science (systematic follow-up and documentation) must exist or else anyone can do anything for any condition.

Medical and biological research has produced an enormous amount of knowledge on animal and human physiology. Can alternative medicine advance itself without or contrary to that physiology? Possibly, but not likely. Let me stand on record (again and again) as being against medical licensure and a totally open market for all practitioners of allopathic and alternative medicine. But, let me also stand on record that there is a science that must be applied to all medical practices, if we ever hope to have anything of value to offer our patients.

While little discernment exists within allopathic medicine as to what is and is not valid, allopathic medicine is far ahead of both willingness and practice by alternative medicine for scientific validity.

What About Slavery?

Mr. Sanders challenges me on the Biblical criteria for slavery. It is an issue worth developing for modern Christendom, but not here. In a cursory review of sources available to me, I could not come up with a satisfactory summary of Biblical slavery. Until some other reader enlightens me or I find a good reference, then I will leave the issue of slavery. The use of the concept for my rejection of cloning as immoral seems valid.


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