Life on
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Reclaiming Our Health – Part 2

YJ: So, since its inception, the AMA has been waging a systematic and successful effort to suppress and discredit all other forms of medicine which they view as competition. You specifically cite their efforts against the chiropractic profession, but they haven’t been the only group to be attacked. Right?

John: Yes, the campaign to protect their monopoly has been fought on many fronts. In the case of chiropractic, there was an extremely important lawsuit and trial in the 1980s. The chiropractors sued the AMA and other members of the medical establishment for trying to destroy chiropractic. It produced a bitter and drawn-out court battle that lasted almost fifteen years, and was fought at every level of the legal system, all the way to the Supreme Court. It was an incredibly important case, much more deserving, to my mind, of being called “the trial of the century” than the O.J. Simpson case. The AMA was finally found guilty of conspiring to eliminate the chiropractic profession.

YJ: In the book you call what the AMA has been doing “Medical Monopoly — the game nobody wins.” What has been the cost, to the general public, of having such a powerful force as the AMA play this game?

John: It’s enormous. For one thing, it’s certainly been one of the reasons that we spend far more money on health care than any other nation in the world, and yet we are the only fully industrialized country that does not guarantee minimum healthcare to every single citizen. We’ve gone the route of drugs and expensive medical technology instead of pursuing low-tech, community-based, health-supporting approaches.

It has also been spiritually impoverishing, because the approaches that have been denounced and repudiated without being fairly tested are often the very ones that can help us to live in our bodies with integrity and wholeness. They can often help us to unify and balance our internal forces.

I feel sad when I think about how many people have suffered because alternative therapies that could have helped them have been unjustly discredited, and never given a fair chance to be tested. Yet it continues. The AMA currently publishes a book titled Alternative Health Methods, which stands as the AMA’s primary statement on the subject.

The AMA catalog describes the book as an authoritative source of information on “unproven, disproven, controversial, fraudulent, and/or otherwise questionable approaches, such as acupuncture, faith healing, bio-feedback, homeopathy, naturopathy, colonic irrigation, and more!” In something less than an attitude of open-mindedness, the AMA book calls holistic medicine “a melange of banalities, truisms, exaggerations and falsehoods, overlaid with disparagement of logical reasoning itself.”

This, from an organization whose motto is “Physicians dedicated to the health of America,” and that calls itself the voice of American medicine. I think rather it is the voice of fear and greed.

YJ: A voice that we’ve unfortunately listened to.

John: Yes. So many of us trust doctors and we don’t trust ourselves. We trust experts to know more than we do about our own bodies. We need to learn about our own bodies; we need to appreciate the exquisite interactions that take place between our bodies, minds, and souls. We need to see doctors as resources, not Gods. A lot of people seem to think that MD stands for “Medical Deity.”

YJ: Certainly one area where this Medical Deity mentality has flourished has been in the treatment of cancer. The AMA has staunchly backed chemotherapy and radiation therapy, dumping billions of dollars into those efforts and research. Yet, according to your findings, these treatment regimes are far from effective. Have we been backing the wrong horse for so many years?

John: Yes, I think we have. When chemotherapy was first being developed, there were really grand hopes for it. That was in the day when a lot of people believed that technology was the path to enlightenment. Nuclear energy was going to produce energy to cheap to meter. Atomic bombs were going to end war forever. The green revolution, with its hybrid seeds, petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides, was going to eliminate world hunger. We were so impressed with antibiotics that we thought that soon enough we’d have the magic bullet for cancer.

So we poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the chemotherapy effort. And there were some gains, just enough to keep the effort alive. Patients suffered terribly, because chemotherapy is notoriously toxic, but extended remissions were achieved in some forms of childhood cancer, most notably acute lymphocytic leukemia, as well as for cancers that primarily struck adolescents, such as Hodgkin’s disease. It became possible to cure a number of childhood cancers that had previously been fatal. And yet, for the vast majority of cancers, chemotherapy has little positive to offer. The experience can be brutal, and offers realistic hope of cure in only about three percent of cases. Only rarely can the drugs extend survival or enhance quality of life. Yet they are given today to most people with cancer.

The War on Cancer is aptly named. Chemotherapy, and the entire orthodox approach to cancer, is based on the idea that the human body is a battlefield. Its chief images are drawn from the language of warfare. Cancer cells do not multiply, they “invade.” The tumor is “the enemy,” which we must annihilate, whatever the cost. If in so doing we employ drugs that destroy the quality of our lives and wreak havoc on our immune systems, that’s considered, by the cancer establishment, to be an unfortunate but acceptable price to pay.

In seeing medicine as a military enterprise, the conventional cancer treatment community is simply writing large the prevailing philosophy of western medicine. In orthodox medical thinking today, the ill human body is rarely described as mobilizing to repair itself, working to restore balance, or seeking to eliminate accumulated toxins. If you are sick, you are not seen as involved in a potentially transformative experience and your body is not understood as an ally or a friend. Instead, you are described as being “attacked” and your body is a victim that is “under siege.” Illness is not a challenge to grow nor an opportunity to heal. It’s a war.

When diseases are seen as an attacking enemy, the body which spawns them is seen, in its seeming unpredictability, as an environment that must be subdued and controlled. It is not understood as a guide in the healing process, nor a well-spring of healing potential, but as a continuing source of danger. Disease is not a messenger trying to get your attention, or a life process which can activate your body’s self-healing resources. Instead, it is an evil force against which your best hope is to enlist the full powers of organized medical technology. The role of medical care, then, is not to champion your body’s self-regulating and self-healing mechanisms. It is to intervene with external agents to obliterate the enemy.

The implication of such battlefield thinking is that if you are ill, it hardly matters what this experience might mean to you personally. There is rarely respect given to the role that feelings or prayer can play in healing. There is little honoring of the intuitive and receptive modes of being, and barely any appreciation for the contribution these states of mind might make to healing. Your experience of yourself and your feelings about what is happening to you are secondary to the “battle” being waged on your behalf by the heroic warriors of western medicine, whose goal is to extinguish the disease.

Chemotherapy tries to kill all the cancer cells in the human body, but it turns out that you can’t do that without killing the body itself. The drugs do, however, often produce high “response rates,” in that they characteristically shrink tumors. People with cancer will ask, “What are my chances?” And the doctor will say: “With your kind of cancer, with this particular program of chemotherapy, we get a response rate of 70 percent.” The cancer patient hears 70 percent, and thinks, “My God, chemotherapy may be a very toxic and mutilating experience, but if I’ve got a 70 percent chance with it, I’m going for it.” And bravely they undergo a brutal experience, thinking response rate means cure rate. But it doesn’t. Response rate means the tumor responds. The patient sees the tumor shrink and thinks, “My God, it’s working, I’ve got a chance.” What they don’t realize is that almost invariably tumors come back aggressively, unimpeded now by the body’s natural biological defense systems or immune system responses, because these have been obliterated by the chemotherapy.

There are far better and more effective approaches to cancer, which I discuss in Reclaiming Our Health.

YJ: An interesting observation you make in the book is that when a group of oncologists, cancer specialists, were asked whether they would participate in chemotherapy trials if they developed cancer, 75 percent of them said no.

John: The survey was done by the McGill Cancer Center in Canada. A large group of oncologists who specialized in the treatment of lung cancer were polled, and three-quarters said that if they had cancer they wouldn’t participate in any of the current trials. An analysis of the study found that the more familiar these physicians were with particular forms of chemotherapy, the less willing they were to undergo them, or to have their families do so. There have been other studies of oncologists and cancer researchers, and they all arrive at similar findings. With alarming regularity, oncologists say they would not allow chemotherapy to be given to themselves or their families.

YJ: Meanwhile the AMA is suppressing any other tools that may offer some other possibilities.

John: The cancer establishment is deeply wedded to the chemotherapy approach. There are some rather egregious conflicts of interest involved. For example, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York is the world’s largest private cancer research and treatment center. James D. Robinson III is the Chairman of the Board. He also just happens to be the Director of Bristol-Meyers Squibb, the company that by itself accounts for nearly half of all chemotherapy drug sales in the world. Richard L. Gelb, the Chairman of the Board at Bristol-Meyers Squibb, happens also to be the Vice-Chairman of Memorial Sloan-Kettering.

When Samuel Broder resigned as Executive Director of the National Cancer Institute in 1995, he took a new post as Director of Ivax, Inc., another prominent chemotherapy company. To find a replacement for Broder, the National Cancer Institute hired Paul Marks, who happened to be a Director of Pfizer, Inc., yet another leading manufacturer of chemotherapy drugs.

These are the people who run the war on cancer. They are pursuing a course in which they are heavily invested financially. They’re not about to change.

YJ: This sounds quite corrupt.

John: I’m only giving you the barest tip of the iceberg. Some of it is hard to believe. John S. Reed is Director of Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Board of Overseers and Managers. He is in a position of enormous influence at the world’s largest private cancer center. Yet this man, John S. Reed, happens also to be a Director of Philip Morris.

YJ: I don’t mean this question facetiously, but throughout reading Reclaiming Our Health I’ve had this question. Given what you’ve uncovered in the book, and chosen to reveal publicly, do you fear for your life?

John: Today, given the state of our world, I think we all have reason to sense that our lives are in jeopardy. We have a deteriorating environment bringing with it the rise of new and emerging infectious diseases, and we have a health care system unable to meet the challenge. We have the presence in the food chains and in our bodies of a host of toxic chemicals that have never been seen before on Earth. But I don’t believe in fear as an operating principle. I don’t believe in fear as a response. I believe in love, and I believe in conscious and non-violent action.

I came of age in the 1960s. At that time, in the short space of five years, perhaps the three most prominent leaders in our country to represent a brighter tomorrow were assassinated. I had marched and worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and when he was shot it was as if a bullet went through my heart as well. We have seen how leaders can be killed and die, and their movements falter. Today we must all take responsibility and take courage and act for the world we would bring into being.

I recognize that I am stepping on some powerful toes, and I wouldn’t be entirely truthful with you if I said it didn’t sometimes concern me. But this message is way bigger than any individual.

I take my refuge, not in playing it safe, but in the joy of giving myself fully to the great healing that our world so sorely needs, and in the common heart in which we are all held. I’m not a martyr. Like everyone, I want to live long and prosper. But the situation in which we find ourselves is so urgent that to hold back and not speak out would be to lose touch with something precious.

Life is risk, one way or the other. Holding back and not living fully, not honoring truth, is to risk spiritual death. I’m grateful that I am able to take risks that help heal my fellow beings. When I expose the darkness in the medical system, it is always in order to more fully reveal the light in the human heart.

YJ: Even with all the corruption you’ve uncovered, as I read Reclaiming Our Health I kept getting a sense of optimism coming through the book from you, even though we’re dealing with some very difficult problems. A sense that we can do something about this.

John: I believe it’s possible that the chaos, upheaval, and dysfunction that marks our current health care system could represent a potential turning point. A healing crisis. A pivotal point of transformation. Perhaps an unprecedented opportunity for fundamental personal and social change. I see that it’s possible for the breakdown of our medical system to lead to a greater healing, both for many of us as individuals, and for society itself.

The intensity of the crisis is shocking many of us into taking more responsibility for our health and our lives. Increasing numbers of us are seeing that we cannot remain passive bystanders to our own health and expect the medical system to rescue us. We’re seeing how false and destructive is the belief that the more money we spend and the more technology we employ, the healthier we will be. We’re seeing how alienating and harmful it can be to think that experts always know more than we do about our bodies and our minds.

The current medical crisis is serving to challenge the assumptions many of us have held, and in the process leading us to become aware of more satisfying and fulfilling ways to live. We’re seeing that there may not always be a technological or pharmaceutical answer to our ills, and that consuming drugs may not always be the best way to alleviate our difficulties. We’re seeing that if we don’t want to be dependent on a system that is increasingly expensive and dehumanized, we need to find other approaches on which we can reliably depend.

Many of us are turning our attention to what we can do for ourselves on an ongoing basis, building and nurturing our health rather than ignoring our bodies’ needs and then automatically taking ourselves to the doctor to be fixed when illness strikes. We’re learning that our health is intimately interwoven with out mental attitudes, our choices, our emotional experience, and the nature of our environment. We’re coming to understand that taking responsibility for our health means more than simply lowering our cholesterol level or our blood pressure. It means learning to tap the powerful healing forces that dwell within our own beings. It means opening our lives to the joy of awakening and the gift of peace.

As people come to see through the medical myth, they can more fully embrace the sources of true healing. Many Yoga Journal readers, for example, sense this. They are interested in yoga, in meditation, in eating a healthier and more conscious diet, in getting regular exercise, in developing healthy and life-affirming relationships, in healing the anguish of our planetary home. As people realize just how out of balance organized medicine has become today, they stop postponing the healing practices that their spirits crave and their bodies require.

When we awaken to our mortality and to the vulnerability of the human body, to its frailty and its fragility, we can awaken also to its healing powers and to its sacredness. Then we naturally begin to undertake healing practices and to live more healthy and purposeful lives. When we realize that doctors aren’t Gods, we are more free to seek the divine within us and to give it increasing expression in our lives.

As a society, we are going through a hard time now, a collective dark night of the soul. Some of us have learned to respond to this with fear. But at the same time many of us are learning to look for the positive and healing possibilities inherent in this situation. As a society, we’re in the midst of a healing crisis. It’s a vulnerable time, and whether it leads to greater healing or to greater destruction depends in large part on the individual choices that we make. A lot depends on whether we activate ourselves and take actions that add beauty and understanding to our lives and to the world. Insofar as we are imprisoned in the medical myth, we do not know the healing power of our own passion and love. Insofar as we liberate ourselves to our own healing potential, we can best serve the unfolding of love in our lives and in our world.

by W. Bradford Swift