Miracles of the demi-gods
January 17th 2013, 14:47
Medicine seems to divide itself between the miraculous interventions and the mundane. The latter is all the things medicine isn't very good at: the nagging, chronic problems that are made bearable by drugs, although almost never cured by them. But the miracles-they're the stuff of TV drama and newspapers headlines, and include emergency procedures, life-saving operations and processes that begin life, such as IVF (in vitro fertilisation).
With the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge about to become parents, the focus on IVF has intensified recently, especially among couples who are less fortunate than William and Kate. And it does indeed appear to be a miracle: a shaking of the fist at a fate that would otherwise have dealt us a poor hand.
However, as is so often the case with medicine, its miracles can sometimes have all the surface wonder of the Wizard of Oz while hiding a different truth behind the curtain, as our Special Report on IVF this month reveals.
The miraculous intervention takes us out of the picture. We aren't masters of our fate, or even responsible agents that may have had a part to play in our health problem in the first place. Rather, the doctor takes on the mantle of a demi-god, one who can reverse the inexorable march of cause-and-effect. Sadly, as so often happens with self-appointed gods, their feet are made of clay. IVF, for example, comes with a high risk of cancer for the mother and birth defects for the child, while 80 per cent of harvested eggs are not healthy.
The miracle sometimes works, of course, and people are not always responsible for their health problems, but perhaps the time is overdue when gods become men, and men and women play a more active role in their own wellbeing.
In terms of IVF, that option of self-determination has existed for years with the Foresight method, which boasts an astonishing success rate of nearly 90 per cent.
But it's neither the stuff of TV drama nor has it ever been heralded as a miracle. Instead, it's all about couples working with practitioners, making radical changes to their diets and taking nutritional supplements. In short, they are helping shape their own destiny.
And because they know the path, they can tread it again for themselves, while recipients of miracles are none the wiser. For them, they remain in the thrall of the demi-god.