Life on
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Reclaiming Our Health – Part 1

Almost twenty years later with the publication of Diet for a New America, Robbins hit national prominence as an advocate for a healthier lifestyle which included a vegetarian diet. In his book, Robbins exposed many of the abhorent practices of what he called the Great American Food Machine, and revealed the emotional and economic price we are pay for our dependency on animals for food.

Diet for a New America touched many Americans deeply, with Robbins receiving over 50,000 responses; many from people requesting additional information and wanting to know how they could translate the book’s message into their own lives. Realizing he needed a way to channel this interest, Robbins formed EarthSave, a nonprofit organization set up to educate people to the advantages of a plant based diet.

Since that time, the per capita consumption of beef has dropped from about 74 pounds per person to 59 pounds, a 20 percent decrease. For Robbins, the decrease translates into fewer heart attacks, strokes, cases of diabetes and cancer, as well as many miles of tropical rain forests left standing that would have otherwise been obliterated, and many more species still around that would have otherwise been extinguished.

But Robbins isn’t someone who rests on his laurels. Before the ink had hardly dried on Diet for a New America, Robbins looked around for the next giant to slay. Noticing that many people continued to look to their physicians for their nutritional and dietary guidance as well as their preventive medicine, troubled Robbins. After all, as he points out, three quarters of the MD’s in this country have never completed a single course in nutrition. In fact, a recent study asked first year medical students whether they considered nutrition to be important to their future careers and 74% said yes. Yet, after 2 years of medical school, when they were asked the same question, only 13% still considered nutrition important.

Robbins’ next task was clear; to explode this “medical myth” — the idea that health comes from the doctor, drugstore, or hospital. After all Robbins had had first hand experience that the myth wasn’t true. As a child, he’d been diagnosed with a form of polio that left him paralysed from the waist down for a time, and even though the movement eventually came back, his left leg continued to be affected. At the age of 21, his left leg was several inches shorter than his right and the physician told him that, since his growing years were over, he would just have to learn to live with it.

Luckily, a few years earlier Robbins had begun practicing yoga, as well as changing to a much healthier diet and taking more responsibility for his life. As he did so his leg grew and became as strong as the other. Today he is a marathon runner, triathete and dancer.

So, as is his style, the research began; ten years worth that has culminated in his most recent book, Reclaiming Our Health: Exploding the Medical Myth and Embracing the Source of True Healing. According to one physician who read it, “What >span id=’i12’>Diet for a New America has done for the National Cattleman’s Association, Reclaiming Our Health will do for the American Medical Association.”

John Naisbitt, noted author of Megatrends, says, “Robbins has brilliantly blown the whistle on the detrimental medical practices that have almost mindlessly evolved during this century. His is a call for us to reclaim responsibility for our own health, a responsibility — he makes clear — much too important to be left to doctors.” If that is the case, the rumbling you hear this fall, may be the death throes of yet another giant slain by the sling of Robbins’ words.

YJ: Can you discuss some of your experience researching your new book? What has it been like for you to uncover case after case of greed, deception and blatant discrimination? How have you felt discovering the massive attempts by the medical establishment to convince the American public that alternative health care is a sham?

John: At times, I’ve felt saddened by what I’ve learned, and sometimes greatly outraged. I believe these emotions exist to provoke a response. Seeing so many people harmed by a medical system fixated on drugs and surgery, and seeing alternative approaches condemned as quackery without being given a fair chance to be tested, has fueled my commitment to see this change. I want to see our dominator-oriented medical system shift in a more partnership direction. I want to see the best practices and methods of alternative medicine available side by side with the best conventional approaches. I want to see people getting the support they need and deserve in assuming control over their lives.

Modern western medicine is quite male dominated. I’m not just referring to the fact that the AMA has never in its 148-year history had a woman president. Or that it never even had a female board member until 1989. Or that only three percent of all the medical school deans in the U.S. today are female. These numbers are telling, but beyond that there is the fact that the feminine principle is so dishonored in U.S. medicine. Alternative approaches such as midwifery, acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, herbs, chiropractic, and many others nurture the innate healing forces and potentials of the human body and being. Seeking to nurture more than to control, they represent a more feminine principle in medicine. When these methods are denounced and banished from practice, as they have been in the U.S. more than anywhere else in the world, people are not only deprived of the physical health benefits these ways can bring, but also of the understanding and relationship to life that they represent.

YJ: You just touched on two basic models of society. Let’s look at that a little bit closer. In your new book, you write about these two models, which are from Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade. There is the dominator model, which is commonly thought of as patriarchal, which involves the ranking of one human over the other. And there is the partnership model, which is primarily based on the principle of linking rather than ranking. Could you summarize for us how important a role these two models have played in the development of our health care crisis? How have they impacted where we are with our health care?

John: We have today what almost amounts to an imperial medical profession. Doctors are for the most part still taught to see their roles as dictators, not collaborators. Patients are expected to be subservient, to do what they’re told. In fact, doctors today frequently talk about patient “compliance.” They assume the patient’s role is merely one of obeying, rather than one of growth and responsibility.

The dominator approach has produced a medicalized society where parents who feed their children junk food and then take them for yearly checkups are considered to be doing the right thing. And where people who eat bacon and eggs for breakfast and then take cholesterol-lowering drugs are viewed as responsible. Every day, women who have obediently followed the rules say to their doctors, “I can’t understand how this happened to me; I’ve come in for exams every year; I’ve had regular mammograms; and yet now I’ve got cancer.”

If we are to create a society dedicated to supporting and maintaining health for all peoples, then it is up to us to do everything we can to place genuine responsibility for our lives into our own hands. The medical establishment will only get off its pedestal when we get off our knees.

A more partnership basis to medicine would bring about a change in the way many health professionals relate to their patients. Their interactions would no longer be ones of dominance and submission, but would be ones of cooperation and mutual respect. Doctors would not have to carry the burden of pretending they know it all, but could befriend the people in their care, support them in claiming their integrity, and help them to take responsibility for their lives and choices.

A shift in a partnership direction would also change the way we experience our bodies. Dominator thinking views the human body as a machine beset by the propensity to break down and cause problems. A more enlightened approach would recognize that each human body is extraordinary, and that every single human being is a miracle. It would help people to respect the exquisite intelligence their bodies possess. It would teach that the body can be an ally and a teacher, and is naturally blessed with marvelous healing capabilities. Such a medical system would help people to honor the wisdom of their bodies.

YJ: Are there implications in all this for how we die?

John: Yes. Today, fewer than 20 percent of people in the U.S. die at home, the lowest figure in the world. And institutionalized deaths can be spiritually draining. I remember one story of a 78-year-old man in a hospital who witnessed the intubation and unsuccessful resuscitation attempt on a fellow patient. Afterwards, he begged to be left alone. “Listen, doctor,” he said. “I don’t want to die with tubes sticking out all over me. I don’t want that my children should remember their father that way. All my life I tried to be a mensch, you understand? All my life, I tried to live so I could hold my head up. Rich I wasn’t, but I managed to put my sons through college. I wanted to be able to hold my head up, to have dignity, even though I didn’t have much money and didn’t speak good English. Now I’m dying. Okay. I’m not complaining, I’m old and tired and have seen enough of life, believe me. But I still want to be a man, not a vegetable that someone comes and waters every day — not like him.”

Although this man was clearly a competent adult, and made his wishes clear, they were not honored. He was “coded,” tagged by hospital personnel to be resuscitated at all costs. Eventually, he managed to disconnect himself from the machinery, leaving a handwritten not to his physician: “Death is not the enemy, Doctor. Inhumanity is.”

YJ: That’s very sad, and all too common. How would a shift to partnership medicine change things?

John: Dominator thinking sees death as a failure. In a system more oriented to partnership, death would be embraced as part of the human experience, and understood to be as natural as life itself. Dying people would be allowed to die when their time had come with dignity and without unnecessary pain. They would not be manipulated and controlled; they would be cherished.

Living in a medicalized society, many of us have lost trust in our natural cycles and processes. Take birth. Many people believe that U.S. birth practices have changed greatly since the 1960s. But although many American hospitals now present a birth-friendly image, the reality of most hospital births is distressingly high-tech and impersonal. Women are still treated as objects from which babies are to be extracted. Birth is still seen as a dangerous process that must be managed and controlled. It is true that husbands and other significant others are now usually allowed to be present, but the fear of something going wrong is still the dominant underlying emotion. The furniture is more homey, and the wallpaper is more cheerful, but I’m sorry to report that the last few decades have actually seen an increasing reliance on technology and interventions. The result is that women giving birth in modern hospitals often feel like passive victims of events that are occurring completely outside of their control.

Dominator medicine is patriarchal medicine, and is particularly hard on women. Some 80 percent of today’s obstetricians and gynecologists are males, even though all of their patients are female. They are surgeons. They are trained to see women’s bodies as accidents waiting to happen, and have been taught to intervene. In the 1960s, the U.S. cesarean rate was only 5 percent. Yet today, nearly 25 percent of U.S. births are cesarean sections. Nearly a quarter of all laboring mothers have their babies surgically removed from them. In some hospitals in more affluent areas, the cesarean rate approaches 50 percent.

I asked an obstetrician who I was debating on national television how much he got paid for doing a cesarean, and how much he got paid when a woman gave birth naturally. He looked very uncomfortable when I mentioned that in the state of Washington, the cesarean rate in nonprofit hospitals is 20 percent; the rate in for-profit hospitals is 36 percent. And when a Kansas health maintenance organization, Total Health Care, changed its policies and began to reimburse doctors equally for cesareans and for normal deliveries so that there was no longer a financial incentive to do cesareans, the cesarean rate dropped from 28.7 percent to 13.5 percent in one year.

U.S. doctors typically say that they deliver babies. This language bespeaks such arrogance. It is women who deliver their babies. And they do better when attended by other caring woman, including midwives. Studies have consistently shown that midwifery produces healthier outcomes for both mothers and babies in all but the highest-risk cases. In Europe, 75 percent of births are attended by midwives, but in the U.S. the figure is only about 3 percent.

While our cesarean rate has been skyrocketing, our international rank in infant mortality has been plummeting. The United States, with the highest per capita expenditure on health care of any nation in the world, now ranks 25th in infant mortality.

The American obstetrical establishment continues to persecute midwives, attack home birth, and try to close down freestanding birth centers. Yet the incidence of fetal distress in babies born in hospitals is 17 times greater than for comparable babies born in freestanding birth centers. The incidence of neurological abnormalities is 3 times greater; and the incidence of jaundice is 6 times greater. Women laboring in hospitals need far more drugs, and the cesarean section rate is 4 times greater in hospitals. These are important statistics. Child abuse is 3 to 9 times more common among cesarean mothers than among mothers who give birth naturally.

YJ: But haven’t obstetrical interventions been responsible for the tremendous historical decline in maternal and infant mortality?

John: No. The real reasons have been advances in public health, sanitation, and nutrition, improvement in women’s working conditions, the addition of Vitamin D to milk (thus preventing rickets), and the development of antibiotics.

YJ: When you speak of the partnership approach, you’re not actually excluding aspects of what we are currently practicing, right?

John: Right. The partnership approach involves the best of both, using each when they’re appropriate. This is important. Some people have become so fanatically against western medicine that they deprive themselves of the very real benefits it has to offer. There are times when conventional medicine can be glorious. If I had appendicitis, or a broken leg, or was in a car accident, or had certain kinds of bacterial infections, I would definitely utilize modern medicine. For many structural and mechanical difficulties, and particularly for crisis and emergency medicine, western medicine has a great deal to offer. Some of our medical technology is spectacular.

But in other areas, western medicine is not so effective. For most degenerative diseases, for autoimmune conditions, for viral infections including the common cold and herpes and AIDS, for cancer, alternatives are often a better bet. The idea is to use the type of medicine that’s appropriate for the given condition. But the AMA orientation is fixated on drugs and other high-tech approaches. It is very monopolistic and territorial, and has been very successful in keeping the alternative approaches down, and in refusing to recognize them as legitimate.

YJ: Is it safe to say that there could be an equal danger of the dominator mentality taking over and influencing the alternative health movement as well?

John: Yes, I think so. There are some people in alternative health who are very dogmatic in their approach. They can be as patriarchal and totalitarian in their way as the AMA is in its.

Most of us have been taught to doubt ourselves. When we become ill, we automatically assume that our bodies have betrayed us, and we seek an outside authority to tell us what to do. When we lose faith in ourselves we become more vulnerable to authoritarian attitudes. We may encourage these attitudes in our practitioners by the fear we bring to the interaction.

But I think that illness can be viewed as a messenger, one bringing gifts as well as pain. The dominator approach treats illness as an enemy to be extinguished, a war to be won, but there is another possibility. Illness can be seen as a life changing process, a rite of passage, an opportunity for change and transformation. It doesn’t just bring danger and threat. Always, in some way or another, it brings opportunities. Herman Hesse once wrote that God does not send us despair to destroy us, but to awaken new life in us. So, too, I believe that illness, even terminal illness, can be an opportunity for healing.

Few things seem as important to me today as restoring our faith in ourselves, in our own minds and hearts, and in the activities that truly generate and protect health.

YJ: Another area where the dominator model has had a real impact is the overall health care of women. This includes not only birth, but our views on birth control, abortion, menopause and the use and misuse of hormones, particularly estrogens like Premarin. How has the medical profession become so chauvanistic?

John: The AMA was first chartered in 1847. The name, the American Medical Association, was chosen to give the impression that the organization was the voice of American medicine itself, and to disguise the fact that it was really a trade lobby formed to further the self-interest of its members. It was as if the American Bar Association called itself the American Justice Association, pretending to represent the idea of justice itself rather than being a partisan advocate for the interests of the lawyers who are its members.

One of the first goals of the AMA, according to the actual language of its charter, was to eliminate the competition. In order to accomplish this, the AMA sought to discredit and destroy the female healing community. At that time, it was to women that most people went for health care.

YJ: Not just for births?

John: No. I’m not speaking just about births, but all kinds of health care. In those days, healing was a community affair. It had not yet become a commodity. It wasn’t a business yet.

We are so used to the idea of the doctor as a man that we may not realize that our situation today, in which most doctors are men, is a rather bizarre historical aberration. For centuries, it was to women that people turned for help when they were ill. Women were the primary repositories of the healing traditions. They were the nurturers and the counselors, the ones who understood how to use native plants, who knew ancient methods of birth control and taught them to other women, who could, if necessary, perform abortions. The arts of healing lay primarily in the female domain, linked to the spirit of motherhood, combining wisdom and caring, tenderness and skill. The arts and practices of healing were neighborly and familial services, intimately interwoven with all of the rest of life. The skills and knowledge of healing were not held exclusively by a particular profession; they were shared freely and belonged to the community as a whole.

But from its inception the AMA wanted to do away with its competition, and that meant attacking the network of female healers. Hence the war on midwifery. And because it was the female healers who performed abortions, the AMA campaigned to make abortions illegal. The campaign would succeed in making every woman who performed or who underwent an abortion a criminal.

Before the AMA’s campaign, abortions were legal in the U.S. up until the mother could feel the fetus move or kick, an event that typically takes place in the 16th to 18th week of pregnancy. At that time, even the Catholic Church was relatively tolerant of early abortion. It was not until 1869 that Pope Pius IX declared the Church opposed to abortion at any time.

The AMA, however, beat the Pope to the punch. In the 1850s, the AMA launched a crusade to outlaw abortion. This was the organization’s first national lobbying effort, and the campaign that put the group on the political map. Although AMA public statements opposing abortion were often expressed in ethical terms regarding the sanctity of life, internal documents show that the real motive was to get rid of the female healers.

In 1871, the AMA issued an official policy statement on abortion, referring to those who performed the procedure as executioners and paid assassins. This proclamation remained in place for nearly a hundred years, during which time millions of U.S. women suffered, and many died, from abortions performed under unsanitary conditions.

Meanwhile, the fact that the most effective way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies was rarely mentioned, because the AMA was opposed to birth control. Until 1937, the AMA opposed doctors giving any kind of contraceptive advice to patients. And it wasn’t until 1970 that the organization got around to mentioning birth control in its service guidelines.

Currently, a remarkably high percentage of all U.S. abortions (about a third of the total) are undergone by teenage girls. The lack of education regarding family planning methods is one of the primary reasons that we now have the highest rate of unintended pregnancy among teenagers in the industrial world. Yet in 1994, the AMA issued a policy statement declaring that physicians “should be free to withhold contraceptive advice from teenage girls whose sexual behavior exposes them to possible conception.”

The AMA has never been one to find itself on the cutting edge of the struggle for female liberation. But today, when the awakening of the sacred feminine is such a critical factor in all of our lives and in world affairs, I find the organization’s retrograde attitudes toward the feminine principle to be particularly disgusting.