”Once upon a time there was a large and rich country where people kept falling over a steep cliff. They’d fall to the bottom and be injured, sometimes quite seriously, and many of them died. The nation’s medical establishment responded to the situation by positioning, at the base of the cliff, the most sophisticated and expensive ambulance fleet ever developed, which would immediately rush those who had fallen to modern hospitals that were equipped with the latest technological wizardry. No expense was too great, they said, when people’s health was at stake.
Now it happened that it occurred to certain people that another possibility would be to erect a fence at the top of the cliff. When they voiced the idea, however, they found themselves ignored. The ambulance drivers were not particularly keen on the idea, nor were the people who manufactured the ambulances, nor those who made their living and enjoyed prestige in the hospital industry. The medical authorities explained patiently that the problem was far more complex than people realized, that while building a fence might seem like an interesting idea it was actually far from practical, and that health was too important to be left in the hands of people who were not experts. Leave it to us, they said, for with enough money we will soon be able to genetically engineer people who do not bruise or become injured from such falls.
So no fences were built, and as time passed this nation found itself spending an ever-increasing amount of its financial resources on hospitals and high-tech medical equipment. In fact, it came to spend far more money on medical services than any nation had ever done in the history of the world. Money that could have gone to community services, decent housing, education, and good food was not available to the people, for it was being spent on ambulances and hospitals. As the costs of treating people kept rising, growing numbers of people could not afford medical care. There were increasing numbers of homeless, and ever more hungry people and families torn apart by the stress. As a result of these and similar misallocations of national energy and resources, violence, gangs, and inner-city riots welled up as outlets for the frustration and despair people felt.
The more people kept falling off the cliff, the more a sense of urgency and tension developed, and the more of the country’s money was poured into the heroic search for a drug that could be given to those who had fallen to cure their injuries. When some people pointed out how fruitless the search had been thus far, and questioned whether a cure would ever be found, the research industry answered with massive public relations campaigns showing men in white coats holding the broken bodies of children who had fallen, pleading, “Don’t quit on us now, we’re almost there!”
When a few families who had lost loved ones tried to erect warning signs at the top of the cliff, they were arrested for trespassing. When some of the more enlightened physicians began to say that the medical authorities should publicly warn people that falling off the cliff was dangerous, representatives from powerful industries denounced them as “health police.” A fierce battle ensued, and finally, after many compromises, the medical establishment did issue warnings. Anyone, they said, who had already broken both arms and legs in previous falls should exercise utmost care when falling.
Of course, this is just a fable.
AWAKENING FROM THE MEDICAL MYTH
Like most people in our society, I grew up believing in the medical myth. I grew up believing that health comes from the doctor, the drugstore, and the hospital.
I never suspected that illness might be a messenger, or that our experience of our bodies, whether well or ill, could provide us with self-understanding. I did not know that I could create a lifestyle that would support the radiant health of my body, mind, and spirit. I did not understand that the choices I made and the way I lived could make a tremendous difference in the quality of life I experienced. I never imagined that the source of true healing lay within each of us.
But over the years I have come to realize that while doctors and medical technology have an important role to play in healthcare, they do not hold the ultimate secrets to health. Taken together, factors such as the food we eat, whether and how we exercise, the way we give voice to our feelings, the attitudes we hold, and the quality of the environment in which we live are far more important to the quality of health we experience than even the most sophisticated medical technologies. It has been liberating to see that health comes from learning to live in vibrant harmony with ourselves, with the natural world, and with one another.
In our society, the medical myth has led to an emphasis on intervention instead of prevention that has generated a crisis in health care of epic proportions.”
-John Robbins, Reclaiming Our Health, 1996