Yay for Modern Medicine!

Something that I don’t understand is the reluctance some people to use modern medicine. I’ve just been reading the biography, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003 and for nine months he refused to follow the advice of his doctors to get an operation and to have chemotherapy. Instead, he tried taking herbs and vitamins and eating vegan and the like. As a result, when he finally consented, the cancer had spread beyond the pancreas, into his liver. Later he needed a liver transplant, but the cancer was still in his body. And so he died at 56. Had he gotten modern medical treatment as soon as the disease was first diagnosed, rather than waiting nine months, his chances of survival would have been much better.

I read recently online from people who don’t like modern medicine. One of them wrote that that they had suffered from depression and still do. This person was proud of the fact that they just ate healthy and took herbs and vitamins–and had been off medication for years. But they admitted that the depression was still there, no better than it had been.

The resistance to medication is especially prevalent for mental illnesses; there is the thought that if you just get the right diet—or maybe pray, or have a better relationship with God, or just trust in God, that all will be well. Your illness will go away—and if not, well, it’s just God’s will and perhaps you haven’t prayed hard enough or maybe you need better vitamins or to change your diet. Or maybe it’s just because you’re an awful sinner.

My eighty year old father developed lung cancer. He had never smoked a day in his life; no way of knowing why he got that form of cancer. Cancer doesn’t even run in our family. He faced the grueling regimen of chemotherapy and radiation. His hair fell out. He had trouble eating. He suffered quite a bit. But in the end, the cancer went away. Now, two years later he just had a chest x-ray–my mom called today to tell me–and so he remains cancer-free, healthy and active.

My pastor had to go through the same process for his breast cancer—with the same result. It was grueling, but in the end, he is now cancer free and has returned to swimming and cycling and of course still preaches every Sunday.

I know people who have to take medication every day for ailments such a rheumatoid arthritis; without their medication, they would be crippled and in severe pain. With the medication, they lead normal lives.

I suffer severe allergies. Until my allergist found the right combination of anti-histamines, I suffered extremely almost year round with pollen allergies; on top of that, I have asthma. Without my various medications, I would still be suffering, or perhaps dead, since asthma is life-threatening and people die from it every year. I have to take several types of medication every day for my allergies and asthma. It keeps me well. In fact, thanks to my medication, I have no symptoms of my allergies or asthma at all. No sneezing, no hacking, no runny noise and eyes, no gasping for breath. I don’t mind taking the medication that keeps me feeling normal. Why should taking such medication ever bother me? Why would taking special herbs or vitamins every day be better for me (especially since it wouldn’t work)?

Likewise, both my parents have high blood pressure. Their parents had high blood pressure. My grandparents didn’t follow their doctors’ advice; they didn’t take their blood pressure medication—and they died of a series of strokes: first partial paralysis on one side, followed by another stroke that caused dementia, and then another after that that was fatal. All preventable by taking blood pressure medication.

I take my blood pressure medication every day, just as my parents do. Why should that bother me?

I suffer from dysthymia, a mild form of depression. I take medication for that. It works. Why should I go off my medication and become proud of that, but return to being depressed? Makes no sense.

Why prefer herbs and vitamins over medicine? Because it’s natural? So’s disease. So’s arsenic. So’s poison oak. It doesn’t make it better than medication that we know works. Our ancestors ate diets free of all the things that those who insist on “natural” fear—and they didn’t live as long as we do and they suffered more disease. They had no way to cure diseases that we today can fix easily—or with difficulty.

God made human beings intelligent. He gave us tools and curiosity. We’ve made tremendous strides in medical science as a result of the intelligence and talent that God has provided people. If he didn’t want us to be intelligent, to use our minds, to solve puzzles and problems, then why did he make us so smart? I believe the rejection of modern medicine on the part of some Christians is a rejection of God’s gift.

Oh, and those who go on about how the big pharmaceutical companies make huge profits and they are only in it for the money. Like the health food, vitamin and herb manufacturers and sellers aren’t? That’s a really silly argument.

Medicine works. Doctors work. If you’re in a car accident and are seriously injured, who you going to go to? Your health food store or a doctor? If your baby has a high fever and is screaming, are you going to hope herbs will work, or will you rush her to the emergency room?

Human beings today are healthier, longer lived and in all ways better off than our ancestors. Small pox, a scourge through human history has been eradicated thanks to vaccinations. Small pox is extinct! My children didn’t have to get that vaccination.

You like herbs and vitamins and such? That’s your business I suppose. But I think it’s stupid to resist the medicines that actually work.

Thus, I really like this XKCD comic:

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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