The proof or the pudding
Recently a letter in one of the medical journals caught my eye. It was written by a doctor attempting to discredit alternative medicine. If recollection serves, he proposed that he and a practitioner of acupuncture convene over a body on the operating table about to undergo surgery. Once the body in question was cut open, if it revealed the existence of meridiens and physical evidence of the theories upon which Chinese medicine is based, the medical man would concede defeat and take the acupuncturist out to dinner. If, on the other hand, the work of the scalpel revealed a collection of organs like a heart, liver and kidneys, said the doctor, then the acupuncturist should pick up the tab for the meal.I was amazed by the arrogance implicit in this letter, particularly in light of what I read every week in the medical literature. For one thing, very little of what we consider "medical science" has actually been proven.
Most of what we consider modern medicine is about 50 years old, developed in the wake of the "big" discoveries of penicillin and cortisone.
This doctor, so convinced of the power of the strictly empirical, might keep in mind that medical science, in comparison with the other sciences, is about four centuries out of date. In physics, for instance, the Cartesian view that still forms the basis of modern medicine was long discarded in favour of relativity and, more recently, quantum theories, which hold that the universe and the way it works aren't quite as ordered and tidy as we used to think. New scientific discoveries of the body, such as the power of the mind to heal and evidence of environmental illness, also throw into question the "germ" theory upon which most of medicine is based.
Even if this weren't the case, evidence of bodily tissue doesn't prove that a philosophy of medicine works, any more than the existence of a pile of bricks demonstrates that you can build a house with them.
Unfortunately, the same holds true with alternative medicine. Many systems of medicine have demonstrated striking effectiveness in curing human beings. But every last philosophy of healing is only a theory to which you and I may choose or not to adhere, that may work better on you than on me.
In the absence of any true science of the body from any source, the best that any of us can claim is that a particular treatment for a specific illness can be shown to be effective and safe.
This is what we have set out to do with the alternatives column of What Doctors Don't Tell You indeed, with the entire newsletter. We knew there is an extraordinary amount of scientific evidence proving the benefit of many types of alternative medicine, so each month we seek to shed light on them. And because, to our mind, no single philosophy has been proven the only right one or the only one to work on everybody, we must remain ecumenical, giving each its turn, advising caution in every direction.
If anyone has evidence to the contrary, the meal's on me.