Modern Medicine Grossly Over-rated
The distinguished Dutch physician Bert Keizer went to London this week and gave a lecture at the London Millennium Festival of Science, at King’s College. He spoke of the rise of Modern Medicine after 1850, the study of the anatomical basis of the symptoms of diseases, the discovery of the bacterial causes of diseases, the methods developed to avoid bacterial contamination, the discovery of anaesthesia, antibiotics, insulin, increasing surgical sophistication, psychotropic medication, vaccination, open-heart surgery, kidney transplants, hip replacement, intensive care treatment, and so on.
But then many became so intoxicated by those marvellous successes in medicine that they thought it would apply to every other situation as well, that there would be the patient’s complaint, followed by diagnosis, treatment and cure. In fact, said Dr Keizer, “in many cases we get stuck after diagnosis, for we cannot treat a stroke, or Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis, or osteoporosis, or nicotine addiction, or, most famously and least believed of all, we cannot cure cancer.”
What did Ludwig Wittgenstein say in the “Tractatus”? “We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched.” What does Wittgenstein mean by that? Bert Keizer suggests, “Around suffering there’s always the question ‘why?’ So when a patient asks: why am I to die? and the doctor responds with a lengthy disquisition on the insufficiency of her coronaries, the accumulation of fluids in her lungs, the patient will soon interrupt all this physiology and will say, ‘Never mind all that, I meant, why me?'”
While modern medicine, since the 19th century, has had great successes, not all physical suffering can or ever will be taken away by medicine. To act as if it could leads to increased suffering, especially in the hour of death. The scientific analysis of bodily events ignores the sadness of parting from this life. Dr. Keizer concluded, “Our real questions, in Wittgenstein’s sense, are not scientific, and we would do well, when talking about choices around death, to be aware of the understandable but therefore no less harmful blindness of one of the principal actors in he last act of life – the doctor with his scientific obsession.”
Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a brilliant doctor in Barts, London, working under Lord Horder, the King’s physician, and destined for a glittering career. But in 1926 he believed he was called to the ministry and on Sunday December 12 he preached in Sandfields Presbyterian Church in South Wales where the local presbytery unanimously invited him to become their minister.
When he arrived back in London on Tuesday December 14 the newspapers were full of the story with such headlines as “Leading Doctor Turns Pastor:
Large Income Given Up For £300 a Year” and “Harley-Street Doctor to become a Minister” and “Specialist to Take Aberavon Pastorate.” There was a message in his box in Barts asking him to go immediately to Lord Horder’s office, and when he entered there were Horder and Spilsbury, his chiefs, pouring over the newspapers with accounts of his plans. They expostulated with him. Horder thought he was being a fool and they urged him to reconsider his decision, pointing out to him all the benefits that would come to him and his patients from remaining within the world of medical science.
Dr Lloyd-Jones apologised to them that they had learned of his resignation from the press, that that had not been his intention at all, that he had determined to tell them personally, but there had been a press leak. “Gentlemen,” he said to the two doctors, “I agree with you when you tell me the importance of medical science, but I want you to realise this, that after we have done all we can for our patients, they are still going to die.” His new vocation was focused upon that eternal life, which is God’s gift to all who believe in the Son of God, the good Physician.
Living in the World 6 November 2020
This article is the contents of an address first given in February 2020 at the Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Newcastle, UK. * * * LIVING in the world. How are Christians to live in the world? The question can be answered in many ways. The topic is potentially vast in scope — that becomes more […]
When coming to consider plagues throughout history and some Christian responses, it is appropriate to begin with this extract from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer: O Almighty God, who in thy wrath did send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also, in […]