The fight for free, universal health care is even more critical today than it was a decade ago, sacrificed to the greed of the insurance companies and HMOs. Health care is a human need, not a privilege. However, as we struggle to equalize access to health care delivery in the United States, we must also address the quality of that care, and what causes so many people to be sick in the first place. Too many of those who routinely criticize governmental, economic and foreign policies fail to challenge capitalism’s scientific and medical policies.
Public hospitals are reeling from the whip of privatization. We must oppose the dismantling of public services but, in reality, most hospitals are little more than assembly-line butcher shops where experts in the reductionist constructs of western industrial medicine prescribe drugs and perform invasive surgeries. While helpful in acute emergencies, they are devastating to general public health.
As a result of these practices, many people in the US are receiving inappropriate or inadequate care. Hysterectomies and episiotomies are carving up women at rates three or four times higher than in Europe. Inadequate prenatal care means the US has the highest infant mortality of industrial nations. Frontal lobotomies and Electro-Shock Therapy for “treating” depression and other ailments are making a comeback. Chemotherapy and radiation remain the preferred treatment for cancer despite showing no percentage increase in cancer cures for forty years. Also, new studies show that early intervention of HIV with (toxic) AZT has no beneficial effects and may further compromise the immune system.
On the other hand, most health insurance still does not cover alternative therapies, which often treat illness or restore health non-invasively and at lower costs. None of the proposed national health legislation — not even the much needed “single payer” (the Canadian model) — covers any of them. Acupuncture, air and water filtration, a toxic-free environment, herbal, botanical and homeopathic remedies, free abortion and contraception on demand (including condoms), midwifery and homebirth, organically-based foods and nutrient supplementation, chiropractic, Ibogaine (for heroin addiction), medical marijuana, clean needle exchanges, alternative cancer treatments, yoga and stress reduction, and non-toxic, holistic treatments for AIDS are driven to the margins of acceptable treatment. Most alternative therapies are viciously opposed by drug companies, the American Medical Association (AMA) and their hip-pocket congressional reps. The legislation before Congress — including single payer plans — would further entrench today’s medical orthodoxy and suppress alternative avenues for treatment.
Welcome to capitalism’s New World Order: assembly line health care, where we shall be medicated, bio-genetically altered, pesticided, toxicated and guinea-pigged by the “experts,” duly recorded in computer chips experimentally implanted in human beings, along with other information about our lives deemed relevant by the powers that be — our arrest records, travel logs, and so forth — to be accessed at the whim of police or medical officials.
Sedition or Sedation
The most widespread successes in reducing disease in the last century were accomplished not by medical intervention but primarily by providing access to decent sanitation, clean water and healthy food. Innovations like antibiotics were only effective in times of acute infection.
Despite — or due to — the huge levels of antibiotics used in the U.S. today (medication and animal feed), diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia are returning. Residents of poor areas with government cutbacks in sanitation and social services and prisoners are most susceptible. Infections such as encephalitis and influenza have skyrocketed in the general population for periods of a few months at a time immediately following nuclear tests and mass spraying of pesticides; high rates of leukemia and thyroid disease are the norm in the proximity of nuclear power plants, and afflict whole regions following accidents like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.
Current practices, including overdoses of antibiotics, do not address the deluge of systemic illnesses caused by environmental degradation. However, big pharmaceuticals continue to develop and push drugs in order to secure profits.
Systemic diseases, including malnutrition, AIDS, cancer, and chronic fatigue, are rampant. As intensive industrial production ravages the environment, our immune systems suffer. Our bodies cannot fight off preventable diseases. The capitalist system is destroying our immune systems.
The alarming situation in the U.S. cries for a radical anti-reductionist approach to health and a no-holds-barred attack on everything destroying our health today. To address these issues, we must end the poisoning of our food, air, and water. This means shutting down nuclear power plants and urban waste incinerators, forcing companies to do massive environmental clean-ups, ending toxic dumping, banning most pesticides, herbicides, additives, non-organic fertilizer, growth hormones and antibiotics in agriculture and in animal feed, and shutting down genetic engineering facilities.
We must also combat the racism that leaves people of color more susceptible to pollution and disease. This includes cleaning up the primarily Black, Latino and working class areas that receive the brunt of U.S.-generated industrial wastes and ending cash-cropping which destroys people’s self-sufficiency and nutrition. We must also support land redistribution to small farmers to localize food production and sustainability.
Subvert the Dominant Paradigm
Stephen J. Gould wrote, “Science is no inexorable march to truth… Scientists, as ordinary human beings, unconsciously reflect in their theories the social and political constraints of their times. As privileged members of society, more often than not they end up defending existing social arrangements as biologically foreordained.”
Many sacred cows are being toppled these days; yet Big Science remains popular and well-funded. Progressives must reclaim science from the AMA, the pharmaceutical industry, the tobacco industry and the federal government if we are to reclaim our health. Look at some of the advancements of science in light of capitalism. Flouridated water programs allowed for the disposal of toxic waste in the 1940s while “enhancing” our health. Nuclear power doesn’t reduce energy costs and threatens our existence as well as health. GMO crops absorb pesticides that poison us and tax soil without increasing yield. Vaccination of all children may cause serious health concerns without offering the protection hyped by manufacturers. It’s dangerous to let industry cure us.
Listening to popular science, parents are blamed for their children’s diseases instead of industrial pollution. Genes become more important than environment. This extends to workplace safety as well, when companies like DuPont screen workers for an alleged “genetic predisposition” to sickle-cell anemia. Many workers of African ancestry were fired from jobs that, the company claimed, might “bring on” the disease, based solely on their inherited genetic characteristics. Increasingly, the system tries to elude responsibility for its environmental devastation and poisoning of the earth and tries to blame the victim — in this case, ourselves.
Creating a New Scientific Method
Even the NY Times has challenged some of the reductionist methodology of western medicine and examined correlative relationships that had been incorrectly identified as causal ones. On December 24, 1991, a front page article by Natalie Angier recounts calls for physicians to “heed the wisdom of Darwin, and to take the principles of evolution and natural selection into account as they seek to cure their patients.” Just because a fever occurs when a person is sick, the researchers point out, doesn’t mean that the fever is necessarily a symptom of the disease. Many illnesses are actually the body’s response to infection. Fever allows white blood cells to more effectively attack bacteria; nausea during pregnancy helps remove toxins that could poison an embryo; and anemia during infection may help kill microbes. Correlations between disease and fever, microbes and iron-level dips, and estrogen levels in pregnant women and morning sickness can no longer be translated into simplistic cause and effect thinking. Fever is not a symptom of a bacterial disease, but one way the body responds to infection to restore its health; low iron levels during some illnesses should not be met with iron supplements, for that would compromise a natural body defense mechanism to the disease. We must look beyond cause and effect and, instead, treat the whole patient—whichever branch of medicine is used.
A holistic approach to health care is opposed to industrial capitalism’s assault upon us, as we become our own experts. We must reject medical research focused on genetics, without holistic or whole-system analyses. There is no place for research as a factory-like industry, raking in big bucks for high-tech drug companies and university researchers without addressing real health issues.
On the other hand, large grassroots movements over the last two decades have challenged the industrial medical model and those who profit from it. They have studied non-western traditions and developed new frameworks for understanding environmental and individual health. Local health initiatives are creating the basis for a people’s health care from the bottom up. They are under attack by the government, the AMA, the tobacco industry and the giant pharmaceutical companies. However, with the support of activists, their impact on the development of new models for maintaining health and treating illness will be profound.
People have a right to health care free from government repression. Activists must critique the limitations and underlying philosophy of capitalist medicine; we must create health care options to counter what the system has done to us; and, we must demand that THESE, and not industrial science’s reductionist models, be publicly funded. By involving ourselves in this effort and counterposing science from-the-bottom-up, as manifest in local projects, as our living critique of capitalist science and its underlying reductionist philosophy, we will join the emerging, vibrant, conscious working class, that sees a healthy and truly free society as possible.
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