Medicine – Scientific or Imaginary

["Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah" – Parashat Lech Lecha 5770 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: Where do you draw the line between conventional medicine and alternative medicine? If people accept the latter, doesn’t it turn into conventional medicine?
Answer: No. Even if the masses accept it, it will still be “alternative,” just with the masses being misled by it. The question is this: Has a particular medical approach been proven scientifically or not, i.e., via experimentation and observation?

Question: But the fact is that alternative medicine works in many cases!
Answer: From a scientific perspective, that is not a bare fact but a fact with an explanation. We are happy that the patient was cured, but one has to make certain that there were no other causes to his cure. For example, there was a black plague two hundred years ago, and, in Turkey, mothers would remove puss from a patient’s abscess, rub it on a knife and make cuts in their other children, to confuse Satan into thinking that those other children had already been smitten by the disease, so that he would leave them alone. The method succeeded. Does that prove that acting against Satan works? Rather, the physician Dr. Edward Jenner ran experiments and proved the vaccination method.

Question: What do I care if the explanation is wrong? Isn’t the main thing that the method works and the patient gets better?
Answer: There is another possibility that such treatments achieve a psychological effect, a “placebo.” In other words, the patient’s belief in the treatment causes the brain to excrete painkillers so that the person feels good. One has to conduct an experiment in which a control group receives a sugar pill while a second group receives the alternative treatment, with neither the patients nor the physicians knowing which group has received which, and one has to prove that the alternative treatment works better than the sugar pill.

Question: What do I care if the treatment works like a placebo as long as the patient fells good?
Answer: Because only the external signs are cured and not the sickness itself, which is liable to get worse, and real medical treatment is thus prevented. For example, alternative medicine kills the pain caused by cancer, but the cancer continues to spread. There was a case in which a homeopathic doctor was convicted in court because he prevented the desirable treatment from being applied. One also has to make sure that the treatment does no harm.

Question: With scientific medicine, not everything has been totally proven either. The fact is that it undergoes change.
Answer: That’s only true regarding the details, but the general theory has been proven. Quite the contrary, the fact that there are changes proves that scientific medicine is always examining itself, criticizing itself and correcting itself. Not so the vast array of imaginary treatments based on the assumption that there are “life energies” whose existence has never been proven. Rather, they are a vestige of the paganism of the Far-East.

Question: But alternative medicine has been introduced into the health clinics and hospitals. Doesn’t that mean that when all is said and done they’ve admitted that it is true?
Answer: No. It’s a calculation of economics and responsibility. Alternative medicine brings in a lot of money that can be used for real treatments. They also employ a responsible approach by which they do not stop the scientific treatment.

Question: Some argue that scientific medicine itself is not so scientific, and that genuine treatments are rejected because they are expensive and unprofitable.
Answer: True, there are cases of physicians chasing after money or honor as in any other profession on earth. Yet since the scientific approach is based on constant self-criticism, distortions will not last long and ultimately the truth will shine forth. This is not the case with illusory medicine that for hundreds of years has been based on false assumptions such as “energies,” which have never been proven in a genuine manner to be more effective than placebos.

Question: How can one argue that such treatments are placebos? They work even on animals that don’t know their right paw from their left?
Answer: The animals trust their masters. The animals’ behavior, health-wise, is influenced by the psychological state of their owners.

Question: So with infants as well, you’ve got to interrogate the parents to neutralize the placebo’s effect?
Answer: That’s, in fact, what we do. Obviously, a simple placebo is much cheaper than any illusory medicine, which likewise causes much harm.

Question: It’s true that there are cases in which alternative medicine doesn’t work, but there are reasons for that…
Answer: The great principle of scientific investigation is the principle of refutability. In other words, the researcher who suggests a hypothesis has to provide a definitive experiment, such that if he fails, his theory is wrong. Yet imaginary medicine always views itself as right and it always has an excuse for everything, such that it cannot be substantively refuted. For example, here is what happens in homeopathy:
- The situation has improved – a sign that the treatment is working.
- The situation is getting worse – That’s a good sign, because the body is being cleansed of poisons.
- There is no improvement – but at least the treatment has stopped the deterioration.
- The patient died – because the alternative treatment was introduced too late, after scientific medicine ruined everything.

Question: Two hundred years ago, a cholera plague broke out in Europe. In the homeopathic hospitals, only 18% died, whereas three times as many died in the regular hospitals.
Answer: This is known. It was due to the lack of hygiene in the regular hospitals, which caused the disease to pass between patients. Today conventional hospitals are clean. 0% die of this disease, whereas in homeopathic hospitals the rate has remained at 18%.

Question: How can alternative medicine be deemed imaginary if it hasn’t been investigated?
Answer: It’s all been investigated. Every medical treatment on earth, including folk remedies, has been investigated.
Nostradamus’s prescription against the plague was investigated by the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Researchers risk their lives in uncivilized areas of the world to hear from witchdoctors how they cure using herbs, to ascertain whether or not there is any truth to it. Nothing is rejected. Yet nothing is accepted without proof. In 1985 the French Health Minister gave orders to investigate the efficacy of homeopathic treatment following operations in the stomach cavity. 600 patients from twelve hospitals were divided up into four groups. Two groups received different medicines chosen by homeopathic physicians, and two groups received placebos, with neither patients nor physicians knowing who was receiving what. There was no difference between the four groups!

Question: Where in the Torah does it say that we have to use scientific medicine?
Answer: Our great master, Rambam, explained that there are three reliable sources to man’s knowledge: 1. The intellect. 2. Experience. 3. Prophecy (Igrot Ha-Rambam, Rav Shilat Edition, p.479). Likewise, the Talmud states several times: “What do I need a verse to prove this? It can be understood logically!” Since we have no code of Jewish Law from Heaven regarding medical matters, what remains is the intellect and logic. With anything else, we are faced with the Torah prohibition against “following the customs of the idolators” (Vayikra 18:3. See Tosafot on Sanhedrin 52b and Tosafot on Avodah Zarah 11b). Indeed, there are about 150 methods of alternative medicine and almost all of them are based on ancient ideologies of the Far East, China, India and Tibet, even if they have been translated into modern terminology. These have not been based on controlled experimentation. Rambam wrote that the forbidden “ways of the Amorites” are practices not dictated by natural investigation, but are corollaries of sorcery (Moreh Nevuchim 3, 37). Heaven help us!