Medicine is an old profession, but not the oldest profession

Medicine is a very old profession. Ancient and honorable. Sadly, for the vast majority of recorded history, honor was pretty much all it had. The Hippocratean ideals of “first do no harm” and putting the patient first and all held special importance when medicine truly had nothing to offer. Make no mistake: up until the last two centuries, the vast majority of what passed as “medicine” almost always did more harm than good.

The advent of scientific understanding of the universe, including the structure and functioning of the human body, finally let doctors do what we’d been honor-bound to merely try and do for all those preceding centuries: actually ease suffering and cure disease. Oh, there’s still plenty of “art” in the practice of medicine, not the least of which involves convincing patients to do things like exercise, eat right, and stop smoking. But the essence of modern, effective medicine is based on science.

There is another profession that is just as old as medicine; probably older, given its moniker of “the oldest profession.” Its aim is to make people feel good — for money, of course. Once money changes hands, pleasing the customer is all that counts. Whatever it takes.

Lying is usually involved:

  • “You’re the best!”
  • “You’re so big!”
  • “I love you.”

Whatever the customer wants to hear, the prostitutes deliver; because that’s what they’re paid to do. Press-Ganey would be proud.

Many so-called practitioners of “complementary”, “alternative”, and “integrative” medicine claim that their modalities are popular. Patients want acupuncture, homeopathy, reiki, and a host of other magical practices that, after rigorous scientific study have been shown time and time again to be nonsense. Even the most scientifically implausible schemes have been submitted to actual experiments — sort of like an engineering department testing perpetual motion machines because Eastern Engineering claims to have created one and, yanno, they don’t want to be culturally insensitive — and in every case have been demonstrated to be, well, nonsense.

Still the naturopaths, the homeopaths, the acupuncturists, the chiropractors, and all the rest peddle their lies; and people buy them.

Why?

Can it really be that people are so desperate they will pay good money (considerably more than my scientifically based services would cost them) to hear comforting lies, rather than the truth, however compassionately presented?

Sadder still, why do so many doctors with supposedly rigorous scientific training prostitute themselves, buying into the magical thinking of “alternative” medicine, just to make a buck?

It has been suggested that I do just that; augment my income by selling supplements and “nutraceuticals”, perhaps doing some acupuncture or reiki. It sure would help with the bottom line, which has been dwindling alarmingly of late.

I can’t do it.

I won’t do it. I won’t lie to my patients. And I won’t lie to myself, telling myself there are five lights when there are only four, or that there are such things as meridians and qi, or energy fields that can be felt and balanced by touch.

I have nothing but contempt for my colleagues who whore themselves out, pushing magic and nonsense in a vain attempt to please their patients instead of educating them. I am a member of a very old profession, but not the oldest profession.

Lucy Hornstein is a family physician who blogs at Musings of a Dinosaur, and is the author of Declarations of a Dinosaur: 10 Laws I’ve Learned as a Family Doctor.

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