Modern medicine excels in the management of medical emergencies, certain bacterial infections, trauma care, and heroically complex surgical techniques.
However, doctors are finding themselves hugely challenged by the myriad new and chronic illnesses presently filling our hospitals and clinics. And their training gives them little recourse but to offer drugs to manage these diseases.
Modern Medicine: Origin and Philosophy
The roots of modern medicine are drug- and surgery-based medical procedures that can be traced back to the time of Rene Descartes (1596–1650), the famous scientist and philosopher characterized by his rationalistic, dualistic worldview. His ideas led to the separation of the “mind” from the “body.”
In the middle of the 19th century, the discovery of disease-causing microbes further added to the bedrock of modern medical theory. At that time, there were two opposing theories concerning the cause of disease.
One theory held that infecting microbes known as germs (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) caused illness. The other maintained that such microbes only became infectious if conditions inside the body were right for them, when there were imbalances in various body systems.
According to the latter theory, keeping the body’s internal environment healthy is the key to ensuring that such microbes do not result in infection, and thus illness. However the in the end, the germ theory of disease, which was advocated by Louis Pasteur (1822–1895), became dominant.
The germ theory heralded the birth of modern medicine, with its emphasis on the infectious cause of disease rather than on the creation and maintenance of physiological harmony and balance. This birth was followed by the discovery of antibacterial drugs (antibiotics) such as penicillin and sulfa drugs.
However, the more medical science embraced the germ theory of disease, the more it focused on treating specific aspects of illness. Eliminating symptoms and modifying external factors superseded the individual’s role in his or her own health.
“Most over-the-counter and almost all prescribed drug treatments merely mask symptoms, control health problems, or in some way alter the way organs or systems work.
“Drugs almost never deal with the reasons why these problems exist, while they frequently create new health problems as side effects of their activities,” wrote Dr. John R. Lee, M.D. (1929–2003), internationally acknowledged pioneer and expert on the subject of hormone replacement therapy for women.
“Lost in this approach is the concept of repairing the imbalances that allow the illnesses to occur in the first place. Medical science has become one-sided in its focus, increasingly losing sight of the whole person in its attempt to treat the body’s individual parts.”
“If we think of the body as a house, we see that problems lie in the gaps and breakdowns that occur in the foundation, allowing various pests to make their way inside. The contemporary physician addresses this problem by selling you poisons or traps to kill or catch the pests. But this still doesn’t prevent other undesirables from coming in through the gaps in the future.
“How much better it would be for your physician to learn where the holes are and help you to repair them, while teaching you how to prevent them from occurring again,” Lee wrote.
German physician and chemist Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843), recognized the limitations of such a symptom-based approach to medicine, as well as its potential to cause harm to patients. He coined the term allopathy (meaning “other suffering”) to describe what, in his view, was a misguided and inadequate method of disease care and prevention.
Challenges in Modern Medicine
Physicians are confronted daily with patients suffering from illnesses for which modern medicine offers mostly superficial treatment of symptoms. However, the magic of antibiotics is vanishing as a host of resistant infections emerge. Moreover, growing numbers of people lack vitality and suffer from a host of complaints that are difficult for the medical community to define.
Most adults and many children today suffer from symptoms of allergies, headaches, lack of energy, excessive fatigue, and various digestive and respiratory disorders, along with a variety of emotional states, including depression, mood swings, and anxiety.
The thrust of modern medicine can be described by the metaphor of war. Disease is considered an invasion by an enemy, and treatment aims to develop “magic bullets” in the form of drugs and vaccines to eliminate that enemy. When silver bullets can’t be found, modern medicine resorts to massacres in the form of cell-killing radiation treatments and chemical medications (such as chemotherapy).
Like the bullets of foot soldiers fighting on the front lines to win battles, modern medicine does save and prolong many lives. However, the quality of the lives saved may not be much better than the quality of life of those living in a war zone, given the multitude of drug side effects.
In order to create lasting peace, nations need diplomats and social leaders who can mediate and change the way people act and see the world. In medicine, alternative medical doctors are these diplomats and social leaders—less equipped to win a gun battle but often much more capable of preventing or truly reconciling conflicts between cells, chemicals, and tissues.
This is Part 1 of a two-part series.
Sammy Li holds an M.D. and Ph.D. from Beijing University. She lives in Switzerland and works as a medical and scientific expert at an international medical research and development company.