Dirty medicine down under
November 21st 2017, 11:15
I am writing this column some 40,000 feet above Indonesia, bound from Sydney, Australia, to London. After a tight schedule of meetings following the second annual Lifestyle Medicine Australasia conference, I presented on the subject of healthcare sustainability.
Australia, like all former British colonies, has a checkered history of human rights. Despite apologies on behalf of previous governments to its indigenous peoples, much of the pain and damage can't be repaired, as it extends too far and runs too deep. Up until the 1980s, kids in school learned a good deal more about the kings and queens of England than they did about how their ancestors, whether rulers or convicts, built a new nation while wittingly or unwittingly decimating pre-existing Aboriginal populations along with much of their culture.
Progress on this front was evident by the presence of an Aboriginal flag, alongside the ever-present Australian national flag, over the doorway to the entrance of the hotel that hosted the conference. Furthermore, the conference was opened by a well-known member of the Aboriginal community, Ann Weldon, on behalf of the Aboriginal people of Australia.
Aunty Ann, as she is often fondly referred to, told the assembled 450 or so doctors and healthcare professionals that the word 'disabled' does not exist in her Wiradjuri language. If someone is blind, she said, those who can see act as the blind person's eyes. If someone can't walk, he or she will be carried. Aboriginal people, like all indigenous people, understand connection with nature, as well as among each other. They recognize the need for higher purpose. The Western world has strayed a long way from this approach to life, health and social care. It doesn't appear to have made us any happier, and despite all the technology, the billions spent on research and our deepening understanding of the diseases that plague us, we don't appear to be any closer to having a successful or sustainable healthcare model.
Admittedly, there have been some big gains, like lower rates of infant mortality and deaths from infectious diseases. But you would be hard-pressed to say we've got the big killer diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity, along with a host of mental health issues, under control.
We need to ask ourselves: should we continue to side-line longstanding health and social traditions that involve an intimate connection with the world around us, and hope that our technological model of healthcare will soon discover magic bullets for the chronic diseases and mental health challenges that are otherwise set to catastrophically destabilize our societies and economies? Or should we do what we can to restore these traditional systems, allow them to flourish and learn from them ourselves?
This, in my view, brings us to the real crux of the healthcare debate. Before we even start arguing the merits of different medical treatments, whether or not we're prioritizing disease prevention, the lack of hospital beds or funding of healthcare services, we need to address the elephant in the room. Current-day Australia, having been built on convict foundations, is a place full of rules. Ironically, however, like many Americans, Australians are among the first to celebrate the liberal nature of their society and all of its associated freedoms. Yet in very important ways, those freedoms have already been lost.
Aborigines have had most of their favored lands taken from them. Those lands now support thriving cities supporting the most urbanized population in the world, along with robust agriculture and mining industries. But non-Aboriginal Australians are also losing their freedoms.
Take the Australian Federal Government's coercive 'No Jab No Pay' law, which forces anyone who needs to claim benefits into vaccinating their children. It creates conflict not only for citizens, but also for doctors, who have an obligation to obtain consent before vaccination. For consent to be legally valid, it must be given voluntarily in the absence of undue pressure, coercion or manipulation. That's hardly the case for the 46 or so vaccinations, including genetically modified ingredients and neurotoxic adjuvants, that make up the full children's and adolescents' vaccination schedule.
Coming back to the elephant, the loss of Australians' freedom to express themselves appears unique in the Western world. A system has evolved in which individuals or organizations who even raise the subject of vaccination choice are attacked, vilified or even issued with death threats. This process is enacted covertly, and the puppeteers who orchestrate the hate campaigns against those who raise the debate are largely invisible. The net effect is that vaccination has become a taboo akin to the previous denial of genocide by Australia's early colonizers.
People must now speak out. Free-thinking Australians need to link arms with Americans, Europeans and others to shine a light on this issue.
It is essential as a matter of public debate anywhere in the world, that we determine whether or not a full vaccination schedule represents the best preventative medical care for our children.