June 22, 2024
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Why People Are Attracted to Alternative Medicine

Picture a loving grandmother who raised her child and grandchildren. Unfortunately, the grandmother is diagnosed with Stage Four cancer. The chances of a medical cure are slim to none. With their last $10,000, the child and grandchildren spend it on an alternative form of therapy. They are promised the world.

Two months later, the grandmother passes away. The family has no money left, and the practitioner is some ten thousand dollars richer. The end result, of course, is quite sad. It is even sadder, however, when the cancer was curable, but the alternative healer discouraged the pursuit of chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Stories such as these happen each year across the country. The promotion and belief in ineffective therapies are not harmless. The damage and havoc they wreak translate into losses of hundreds of millions of dollars to families that cannot afford it, as well as loss of life, r”l. In this author’s opinion, promoting ineffective therapies to others is also a violation of a Torah prohibition known as Lifnei Iver — placing a stumbling block before the blind. The Toras Kohanim clearly states that giving a person an “eitza sh’aina hogenes” — misleading advice— is a violation of this Torah commandment. Three such examples are found in the Toras Kohanim: 1] To advise a person to leave at a dangerously early time in the morning when thieves are more likely to victimize him (Kedoshim Parsha 2); 2] To advise him to go out in the hottest part of the afternoon so that he will get a sunstroke; 3] To advise him to sell his field in order to purchase a donkey, and then, by trickery, to purchase his field from him in exchange for a donkey.

Understandably, there are people whose livelihoods depend on promoting all of this. They will go through great effort to obfuscate any attempt at showing the truth of the ineffective nature of these therapies. [Even more so, they will make no attempt to show the truth about therapies that they themselves readily admit are shams and frauds.] True, there is a website called Quackwatch, run by a medical doctor that attempts to expose all of these ineffective therapies, but by and large, such efforts are not so effective.

Indeed, according to WebMD, some 30% of Americans frequent practitioners of “alternative forms” of healing that are foreign to western medicine. Most of these forms of therapy and diagnosis have been rejected by mainstream doctors and scientists. How is it then that so many people are attracted to it?

 

Poor Experience With Doctors

It is unfortunate, but the world of legitimate medicine is far from perfect. We are confronted with horror stories where someone with cancer or some other serious illness was assured that his or her pains or concerns were nothing. The Torah tells us, “Shamoah bain acheichem,” in regard to how judges must hear cases — listen carefully among your brethren. This should be doubly true regarding medical doctors. Unfortunately, many do not, assuming that they have heard it already.

Thus, an orthopedist in Eastern Long Island misses the diagnosis of a broken bone in an elderly woman because he assumes she is just complaining.

Or a patient with colon cancer hears the words, “Go home and relax, you have a bad case of the flu.”

“What?! Had my concerns been addressed in the first place, we could have caught this at Stage One,” is a statement that is far too commonly heard.

The situation is somewhat analogous to automotive repair, where we often change a part only to find out that the part was fine and what really needed to be changed was an entirely different part. We must still, however, attempt a cure, because medicine, when practiced properly, does cure. The Gemora in Taanis 22b tells us that there is, in fact, a halachic obligation to seek out a legitimate medical cure.

So this is one factor why 30% of people in this country have given up on regular medicine and frequent that which has been debunked and empirically disproven.

 

A Listening Ear

Another factor is that, more often than not, the practitioner of alternative medicine will offer more of a listening ear then does his more legitimate counterpart. Empathy goes a long way in the healing process. The reality is that western medicine does not necessarily emphasize empathy and bedside manner techniques. This translates to a form of disaffection toward western medicine and an attraction toward “healers” that are better at offering empathy.

 

Placebo Effect

There is also something called the placebo effect. Science has measured the placebo effect and it is a necessary issue to deal with when testing the effectiveness of drugs. Indeed, there are multiple possible components of a measured placebo effect. There is some evidence that placebo interventions can alter levels of hormones, endocannabinoids and even endogenous opioids. And while the effects may be short term, they help contribute to the atmosphere that allow fringe and debunked therapies to continue.

 

Blurring of Lines

There is also another factor. Many of these practitioners combine the debunked therapies with legitimate forms of diagnostics and or therapies. Measuring manual muscle strength is legitimate and is done in regular medicine for insurance purposes. Using these measurements, however, to “ask questions” to the muscle is decidedly not legitimate.

There is also the issue of nutrition. Most medical doctors do not receive the proper amount of training in medical school in the crucial area of nutrition. Many alternative healers combine sound nutritional advice with their debunked therapy. The truth is that a nutritionist could have given the same nutritional advice, and even better, without the blurring of the lines.


The author can be reached at [email protected]

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