The trouble with medicine
November 9th 2007, 11:07What's the difference between alternative medicine and conventional or allopathic medicine?
For the allopathic advocate, it's the difference between the scientific method of discovery and what he would describe as wishful thinking.
But as Charles T Vivian, a consultant occupational physician at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, explains in a recent British Medical Journal, conventional medicine is based on the biomedical model, which is reductionist and dualist.
It's reductionist because all symptoms can be explained by the underlying pathology, and it's dualist because it follows the Cartesian division of mind and body. If there's no discernible pathology, it's all in your head.
As he writes: "This model was drilled into us at medical school and is the principal model for the National Health Service.
"But it's wrong. For up to 90 per cent of people presenting to their general practitioner with genuine physical symptoms, the symptoms are not explained by pathology. . .I now explain this to patients, and tell them the problem lies with the model, not with them. It is normal to have genuine physical symptoms that cannot be explained through radiographs or blood tests."
Conversely, alternative medicine is holistic. The symptoms are not the cause, but merely the outward expression of something deeper and underlying.
As a consequence, everyone is unique, and no two diseases are quite the same, although they may share commonalities.
Which is why alternative medicine is viewed as 'unscientific'. As Dr Vivian says, the problem lies with the 'scientific' model itself, and not with alternative medicine, which continues to treat the individual, not the mass.