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Is this the End?

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Is there a need to look for an alternative to modern medicine? This is a question often repeated and debated by many minds. One often speaks of the failures of modern medicine in conquering illness and the countless side-effects of drugs that affect a healthy system. Scep­tics argue the case against it, troubled by the present situation where a doctor is much like a computer robot and the patient a help­less, mechanical part to be set right. This indifference and growing lack of humanism amongst doctors repels the emotional-sensational being of man that primarily approaches a physician for relief and succour. A further view contends that the methods of allopathic science are not strictly rational but only pose to be so. Many of its findings are surreptitious, tipped over by chance and later branded with a rationale and topic that is typical of the scientific world. Still further, it is felt that the flooding of the markets with drugs is not done in any scientific but an economic spirit. Science and its methods are often seen as tools used to further the market. The innocent physi­cian is often trapped in a critical choice between one consumer product and another and his healing instincts are often ‘misguided’ by the vast net of propaganda and pseudo-products that flood the market.

These arguments like many others, may not hold by themselves though each has ‘its’ own rationale that is strong, convincing and supported by facts. For instance, failures occur in all systems and are by themselves no proof of a wrong approach. They simply indicate an inadequacy and need for growth and perfection. They cannot challenge a paradigm or raise a prima-facie case against it. The humanists have a stronger case, pointing to the inadequacy in the teaching or making of a physician who, through over-specialisation, may lack a total view of life and often finds himself unable to see beyond. This by itself need not negate the modern approach or brand it unscientific. The third argument regarding methodology is often brushed aside by the modern intellect as mere theoretical juggling of words with no practi­cal bearing. The wiser ones accept the many limitations imposed by the instruments of observation and deductive, inferential knowledge, but are unable to conceive or pursue any other mode of knowledge. They feel that even if the limitations are there, one has no choice. One spends almost eight years to become a specialist and what else can one do but practice the best choice, even if an imperfect one? Even with an unsure compass, one has to make full use of it with the faith that just as so much has already been discovered, much more will come in time. Why hurry and fall a prey to the unknown? The track of modern science has been laid before us for over two centuries with its mind-dazzling wonders. Why leave it for an area of which nothing is sure? As regards the fourth argument, of commercialisation one gets resigned to it, saying that one can’t change it. It is no fault of science but the system which abuses it. Besides, as clinicians are not social scientists, doctors have nothing to do with this business but simply use the best discrimination available to them. And final­ly, one tops the argument by stating that anything is well that works well.

While one can revive the other four arguments, the focus of this article is on this final note often chanted triumphantly, that all is well that produces results. The first and foremost question needed to be raised by modern science was: what is its goal in matters of health and what is the ideal state of the human body? Mesmerised by Darwin, the modern era seeks and bases everything on an instinct for survival. As long as a drug helps one to survive, it is good. This preoccupa­tion with rapid adjustments, this nervous shrinking from life and death as a challenge, gives rise to a philosophy of patchworks. Hence one finds doctors, who despite warnings thrive on prescribing drugs, one to treat the main system disturbed, another few for the observed symptoms, still others to counter the side-effects or balance them, etc.. Fortunately, one still finds the wise old physicians using minimum medicines even for major ailments and with equal success.

The ancient science of Ayurveda had another approach to health and disease. The body in this system was regarded as a means towards an end, not an end in itself. This statement would certainly shock those scientists for whom the body is the beginning and end of things. The wisdom of Ayurveda saw the human being as a soul, inhabiting the mind and body supported by the life-force. Illness could result from an imbalance of any component. As the cause so was the remedy. Often three causes were intermingled. Drugs were given for the body; regu­lation and moderation of habits, desires, etc. were prescribed for the mind and spiritual methods for the soul. And what was its purpose? Caraka Samhita says that the purpose of health is the capacity for enjoyment.

Now this is where a basic line of difference arises. One can well understand the difficulty of its acceptance in conventional society. The difficulty is however solved by a paradoxical statement given by Caraka. This relates to the three pillars of health: food (right use of), sleep (right use of) and celibacy. Evidently, the word enjoyment was not used in a narrow manner of indulgence in sensuality. Indeed, one of the causes of illness was attributed to an overuse and overindulgence in sensual pleasure. The goal was not merely living somehow. If one had to live, one had to have a purpose which fulfilled life. Life stood for growth, richness, righteousness, freedom and enjoyment. But life also went beyond to death. There is an elaborate description of methods suggested for an easy passage to the other world. Death itself was made beautiful, peaceful and full of a calm repose.

To fulfil this goal, a great demand was placed on the treating physi­cian. He had to be no less than a sage himself, for mere knowledge of drugs was not enough nor a knowledge of the body parts. One had to know the mind and soul as much as the body. In fact, the drug pre­scribed had to be chosen considering, among other things, the tempera­ment of the patient.

Such a medical education may appear absurd or even out of place, but if followed, the whole scenario of medicine might change and none of the arguments against medical practice would stand. For a doctor who is so equipped is not likely to regard man as a mere machine. He is also more likely to consult the patient in his own illness and mini­mise the use of drugs. Sharp in his intellect and well-restrained, he is less likely to fall prey to the propaganda of the economic-oriented drug market or be a party to it. Lastly, a patient of this physician is least likely to live under a lingering shadow of disease and death, somehow managed by drugs. He will make a purposeful use of his life and regard death as a passage rather than a frightful end, making his whole life an offering to the ever-beautiful and the ever-blissful within us.

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