Friday, January 26

Medicine & Terror - Two Approaches

My buddy Michael Spencer and I have a long-running disagreement about the role of the government in fighting terror. Michael is, by his own admission, terrified that someone is going to smuggle a suitcase nuke into a crowded location and kill a whole lot of people, (a la this season's paean to fear on 24). He is in favor of most any steps the government can take to prevent such an occurrence.

I, on the other hand, argue that the powers of the government should and must continue to be limited to those explicitly enumerated by the Constitution, regardless of threats. I contend that the extreme steps taken by the government, (suspension of habeus corpus, national IDs, airport "security" and the like), are a bigger threat to our freedom than anything Islamic terrorists can accomplish.

Are either of us right? Or wrong? Or are we perhaps not even talking about the same issue?

To Michael's point, the mere idea of a nuclear detonation on American soil, (or any soil for that matter), is unthinkable. Michael and I both have children, and both wish to live in a world where those children are safe. Neither of us want to live in a world where criminals are able to deliver and detonate suitcase nukes with impunity.

I think the difference in our views is analagous to two different approaches to medical care.

Modern western medicine, when confronted with an infection in the body, takes an aggressive "kill the intruder" approach. This involves the use of some sort of chemical or mechanical process designed to kill the offending germs, virus or cancerous cells. The problem with such approaches is that they kill without discrimination. Antibiotics destroy not only the "bad" germs, but also the benign and helpful germs the body requires to maintain health. Most forms of surgery require general anesthestics that induce a near-death state in the patient. Chemotherapy introduces toxins into the body in doses that are near-fatal. The toxin is so dangerous that it would be lethal if continued, but the plan and hope is that before the chemo kils the patient, the chemo will kill the cancer.

This approach to medical "care" creates an environment of ever more powerful bugs adapting to ever more powerful drugs. For every "win" the doctors enjoy, they also create an environment where superbugs are forced to evolve to survive. It's the medical equivalent of the Cold War policy of Mutually Assured Destruction. There is no end to the escalation in sight.

There is another approach to medicine: the naturopathic approach. Naturopaths tend to have a much more humble philosophy of health care than do MDs. naturopaths perceive the body as a complex "system of systems" and believe that they cannot upset one of those systems through direct intervention without upsetting them all. Naturopathy seeks to influence the body in the direction of health, rather than attack the disease itself and in the process inflict all sorts of unsuspected "collateral damage".

In other words, a naturopath does not try to kill the bug. Rather, he works to create an environment in the body that is simply inhospitable to the growth or even existence of an offending organism. If, for example, the pH of the body is too acid, (an environment that is conducive to infection), naturopathy will work the change the pH of the body to a more alkaline balance. The change in the environment forces the offending parasite out of the body because it cannot thrive or even survive in such an environment. The best part about this approach to medicine is that it is not dangerous to the body. In fact, naturopathic medicine assumes that the reason the body is sick is because it was previously an attractive environment for sickness to invade. Modern western medicine, in contrast, neither knows nor cares about the state of the body prior to the onset of disease. It simply seeks to eradicate the disease and has as a target end-state for the body the body "as it is now, only without the disease". In other words, modern medicine does not look at the underlying reason for sickness to be in the body. It restricts its attention to the bug itself, rather than the environment in which the bug has come to exert influence. Naturopathy believes that a healthy body is able - in most cases - to maintain health without "outside" interference such as antibiotics.

Just as an MD assures us that western medicine is the only effective tactics for dealing with infection, the government assures us that their current tactics for rooting out terrorists are the only effective ways to deal with them. An MD uses ever more invasive and destructive methods to eradicate infection and disease from the body, and the government tries to use anything within their power to find and stop the people who want to use a suitcase nuke. But just as the MD approach to medical care destroys healthy cells in the pursuit of malignant ones, the government's terror-fighting tactics kill and/or maim many innocent people in pursuit of the few malignant ones. The government's method for pursuing and apprehending terrorists requires the abridgment of many fundamental rights and freedoms. In their view, in the pursuit of terrorists, there are going to be collateral damages; that is simply the price of eradicating the disease in the body politic.

But what if the root of the problem is that the body itself has become a hospitable host to these invading organisms? Or worse, what if the governments tactics for eradication actually create in the body politic an environment that is ever more hospitable to infection or invasion? Would it not make more sense to approach the problem as a naturopath approaches the problem of disease in the body?

My symptoms were fatigue, poor concentration, general malaise and stomach acid. The MD I visited gave me proton pump inhibitors to reduce the acid in my stomach and told me to reduce my cholesterol. If my cholesterol did not come down, he would have put me on Lipitor. Neither of these pills would have solved the problem, but they would have reduced the syptoms. In other words, the western medical approach would make the problem less painful, but would not actually eliminate the underlying bad health.

(In contrast, my naturopath has given me supplements to strengthen my pancreas and to help my stomach with digestion. My chiropractor found that my thoracic vertebrae were misaligned in the region that feeds the adrenal glands. He is adjusting accordingly. I have seen my health improve significantly.)

The western medical mind sees symptoms as the disease and therefore assumes that elimination of the symptoms equals elimination of the disease. This is not only wrong, it is dangerous. If an underlying disease that has not manifested symptoms still exists after eradication of the symptoms, it will inevitably manifest sooner or later somewhere else. And since the western modern approach is to treat the symptoms, it will result in an upward spiral of drug use and medical intervention.

This is exactly analogous to the current situation with terror and terrorists in America. Terrorism is a disease in the body politic, but the traditional military/interventionist approach treats the symptoms of terrorism as the disease. Without getting into the politics of the situation, my suggestion is that we think about the end game for the terrorists. Assume for a moment that the scenario played on 24 this season is real and that some group of disgruntled terrorists have 5 suitcase nukes they are ready and able to deploy. Worse yet, assume that they actually detonate these nukes and kill 100,000 people.

Then what?

They do not have an inexhaustible supply of nukes. They do not have an army to invade us with or an air force to control our skies or a navy to control our ports. They cannot land an army of Islamic invaders on the Atlantic and Pacific shores. They cannot take over our governments and force us to live the way they want us to live. They do not have the power to destroy us, they do not have the power to invade us and they do not have the power to occupy us. So what exactly are we afraid of from these terrorists?

I don't think we know. These radical Islamists no doubt have a political agenda that they would love to foist upon the whole earth, but the reality is that they simply do not have the power to obtain military or political goals in America unless we give them that power.

What might the islamic radicals really want? Well, we know that they believe that the whole world should be under the rule of Shari'a law as interpreted and administered by Ayatollahs. This is basically the form of government operating in Iran since 1979. What would that look like?
Discrimination on the basis of sex and religion would be mandated rather than prohibited. Muslims men would have full rights under the law, Muslim women would have few rights. Non-muslims of all varieties would have minimal rights. Freedom of worship would be banned. Freedom of speech would be banned. The right to free assembly would be banned. The religious authorities would hold the power to imprison and/or punish you without the right of appeal. Religious apostasy would be punishable by death.

In other words, the fundamental rights ascribed to all men and enumerated in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights would be utterly overthrown.

Do we fear that Islamic terrorists are going to take over our government and suspend the Constitution and Bill of Rights?

The government itself is saying that in order to combat terrorism, they need to suspend the rights recognized in the Bill of Rights and need to take up powers explicitly denied the government in the Constitution.

Or to say it another way, the government is telling us that in order to protect us from the terrorists end game, (an end the terrorists do not have the power to achieve), they need to take from us the rights the terrorists would take from us if the terrorists won. Does that make sense? This would be like the doctor saying that in order to keep your bronchitis from turning into pneumonia, he is going to remove your lung. It is an effective approach to eliminating bronchitis, but it completely misses the point of treatment in the first place.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Jack, I think I understand what you are saying, and agree with a lot of it. However, I think that while our country has become hospitable to "infection" by terrorists, I don't think that it is because of our eradication tactics. I think that it is because of the very freedoms that those same terrorists would seek to destroy. We have freedom of religion, therefore it is possible for Islamic fundamentalists bent on world subjugation to come over here and open their mosques; something we would never be allowed to do as Christians in, say, Iran. That freedom is being taken advantage of. Some would say abused. I am not saying "close down the mosques". I am saying there doesn't appear to be any sort of good answer to getting rid of the whacko faction of Islam.

Like our bodies, and medicine, sometimes you have to choose between the lesser of evils. When I was a child, I had a severe thyroid condition which left me, well, obese. After getting on thyroid medication (which I took until adolescence), I slimmed WAY down, and eventually my thyroid started working. Years later, my mom found out that medication can lead to osteoporosis. So I may wind up with that because of the meds, but if I hadn't had them, I would have suffered a myriad of health problems due to weight. OK, OK, perhaps there is a natural way to treat an underactive thyroid. I honestly don't know. Let us consider my daughter. Megan started having seizures nearly a year ago. We tried various natural ways to control them because I really didn't want to put her on the heavy-duty drugs that anti-convulsants are made of. Nothing we tried completely eliminated them, although several things helped a bit. We finally caved, and she is now on Trileptal, and she hasn't had a seizure in nearly a month. We may find out in 10 years this medication can lead to some other condition, but we are praying that won't happen. If it does, I can only hope Megan will understand that we were trying to avoid brain damage from repeated seizures.

Brain damage or....? I'm taking a deep breath and going with the unknown.

Erosion of our freedoms or death by dirty bomb? I pray neither.