Lourdes Salvador's Column
...Co-founder of MCS America discusses the latest Multiple Chemical Sensitivity issues.
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Quacks and Quakery in Medicine: Truth in Healthcare
by Lourdes Salvador
"The medical profession is disenfranchising experts who may be vital characters in the quest for understanding about environmental illnesses," according to Tarryn Phillips of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Western Australia.
In a recent issue of Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Phillips discusses plaintiff experts and an environmental illness known as multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS).
The Environmental Protection Agency defines MCS as "a diagnostic label for people who suffer multi-system illnesses as a result of contact with, or proximity to, a variety of airborne agents and other substances."
MCS is often precipitated by an acute or chronic exposure to toxic chemicals. Therefore, it may lead some to file lawsuits if they were wrongly injured. However, many in Australia are surprised to find a great deal of difficulty locating expert witnesses and treating physicians for the condition as a result of peer pressure.
"When medical practitioners act as expert witnesses for the plaintiff in contested illness lawsuits, they can be stigmatized by their professional community," says Phillips. In fact, some have been called "quacks".
Quacks and Quackery
The term ´quack´ is used in reference to a person who practices medicine and dispenses advice based on observation and experience in the absence of scientific findings. In its most negative connotation, ´quackery´ refers to treatments without value based on untrue claims.
The terms date back to Paracelsus, a physician who created a salve with mercury to treat syphilitic rash. Paracelsus was called a ´quacksalver´ by physicians who believed that the rash did not go away, but rather retreated more deeply into the body.
Later, of course, it became recognized that mercury did indeed act as an antiseptic and antifungal agent and it became widely accepted for use in vaccinations as a preservative. In essence, Paracelsus was before his time and the label of ´quack´ was applied by his narrow-minded peers
The ´quack´ label is often given to actual physicians who are on the forefront of medicine, have done research, attempted to publish that research, and altruistically study emerging illness and effective ways to treat them.
Dr. Alexander Fleming, for example, was credited with the discovery of penicillin in 1928. Prior to being credited, he was called a quack for suggesting penicillin be used as a medicine. Fleming wrote, "Penicillin sat on my shelf for 12 years while I was called a quack. I can only think of the thousands who died needlessly because my peers would not use my discovery."
Phillips offers an explanation for why those who are most able to help people with environmental illnesses continue to push forward with new research and risk being called a quack.
"They rationalize their continued advocacy within a moral discourse, which includes a professional aspiration toward altruism, an ethical commitment to "truth," and the explicit emphasis that financial gain is not a motivation," says Phillips, "For their deviance the experts have been confronted with professional disillusionment and emotional drain."
The Real Quackery
There always have been and always will be legitimate quacks who promote overstated cures that are useless time and money wasters. Nevertheless, just because a physician is called a quack does not mean s/he is a quack.
The quack label is often thrown around inappropriately to protect financial interests and circumvent liability in various industries. Oftentimes job loss is cited as a concern, though jobs in toxic industries could easily be replaced with work in safer, alternative industries that are both financially viable and protect worker health.
Though science is accepted as evidence based, replicated, and reliable, it cannot be relied upon and is often behind the times. This can be seen in the large amount of drug recalls due to lack of thorough testing for side effects and safety before marketing and prescribing.
Replication of science takes years while people remain ill or pass away. Select doctors have been paid handsome sums to issue industry supported statements, conduct studies to industry specifications, and issue opinions on MCS that lead others, including doctors, lawmakers, and community members, to believe that biased findings are truthful. At its core, it´s a well-funded pharmaceutical and chemical industry campaign of disinformation designed to cast doubt over the existence of environmental illnesses.
In many cases, these special interest groups have monopolized ownership of scientific journals and publish only studies which call "alternative" medicine into question. Like Fleming, researchers who discover beneficial treatments and healing modalities report that their work, which could benefit mankind, is denied publication in medical journals on the basis of principal. This is the real quackery that is harming the health of millions.
The American Medical Association
The American Medical Association (AMA) was founded in 1847 by a group of elite physician´s to protect their interests and organize against ´quacks´ (homeopaths, midwives, and herbalists) in order to increase their own business. Since then, there has been a concerted effort against "alternative" medicine and healing by the AMA, with claims that it is "unscientific". In reality, the science has been proven and is simply denied publication in journals which the AMA and pharmaceutical companies monopolize for financial reasons.
MCS is one condition that these journals continue to deny simply because it is not profitable to prescribe chemical avoidance. Avoidance is berated as non-scientific and emphasis is instead placed on finding a way to treat people with MCS so that they could be exposed to the poisons which make them ill. Logic says that exposing oneself to poison is not advisable. Yet, it would be highly profitable for drug makers and physicians to have patients on lifelong medications and going through their revolving door with continued declining health.
Drugs and surgery are profitable, but neither work for MCS. Altruistic physicians who have uncovered the biochemical pathways and tests pointing to an MCS diagnosis routinely hit the wall when they try to publish their research findings. It is much more profitable to falsely claim MCS is a psychological problem and prescribe lifelong psychiatric medication to manage it. The fact that a statistically significant proportion of subjects experience worsening health on these medications gets slipped under rug in the hopes that psychiatric medication will make the ill patients apathetic enough to stop seeking help and keep popping profitable pills.
The history of the American Medical Association and supposedly ´scientific´ treatments is hardly as noble and scientific as it seems. It includes dangerous treatments such as blood letting and mercury poisoning. The AMA lays claim to science and the safety and efficacy of expensive pharmaceutical and surgical treatments. But instead of promoting a return to health and vibrancy, the AMA promotes long-term pharmaceutical "management" of disease for profit.
Over 100,000 people are killed each year by prescription medications and another 2.1 million are injured. More people die each year at the hands of prescription medications than suicide, firearms, homicide, illicit drugs, or alternative medicine. Conventional medicine has no right to point the finger and call anyone else a quack!
Those who treat MCS do so to find the truth and help end patient suffering. This is in contrast to the typical medical scrutiny given to emerging illnesses, such as MCS, and staunch attempts to falsify new theories and treatments.
"By specializing in treating an emergent and immeasurable condition as though it is organic, experts who deviate from the accepted framework of their field can find themselves marginal and stigmatized by their professional community," says Phillips, "The informants to this research rationalized their decision to breach the professional norm by conceptualizing themselves as part of a minority moral community that prioritizes an ethical commitment to "truth" and helping those who suffer."
Those who disengage from work with emerging illnesses do so because of the social, financial, emotional, and professional constraints they are faced with as a result of their interest in helping others.
Phillips asserts that "by disenfranchising these experts, the medical profession may be inhibiting advancements in emergent illness medicine."
Phillips, T. "I Never Wanted to Be a Quack!" The Professional Deviance of Plaintiff Experts in Contested Illness Lawsuits: The Case of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 24(2),182198.
For more articles on this topic, see: MCSA News.
Copyrighted 2010 Lourdes Salvador & MCS America