Tag Archives: aboriginal medicine

Who’s to Blame for Parents Chosing Quackery Over Science?

David Laing DawsonMarvin RossBy Dr David Laing Dawson and Marvin Ross

The family of an 11-year-old aboriginal girl with cancer has a constitutional right to opt for traditional medicine over chemotherapy, an Ontario judge ruled Friday in what some observers called a landmark decision.”

We can understand the difficulty, the sensitivities weighing on the judge’s mind when he  made that decision. Memories of recent land disputes in Caledonia, the Oka stand off, mercury poisoning in Northern Ontario, a history of insensitive forced resettlement, and residential schools. We need to be sensitive and cautious and respectful.

And had this been the case of a family choosing a long established culturally relevant healing practice over an only partially effective Western Surgery, the decision would have made some sense. Even if it had been refusal of a transfusion that would have only improved chances by, say, 10 percent, the judge’s decision would be understandable.

But it wasn’t. It was the family choosing to pursue not a traditional native treatment as they claimed but a very modern European/North American flim flam to treat an illness that is fatal, rather than a scientifically proven treatment that is known to be 90 to 95% effective. And not just partially effective, but curative.

But rather than rant about the decision, and the “alternative treatments”, we should point out “our” failure. By “our” we mean the institutions of scientific, evidence-based modern western medicine. The competing systems here are, in one corner:

McMaster University Health Sciences Center. McMaster University Department of Pediatrics. McMaster University department of pediatric oncology. And all in association with researchers, clinicians, libraries, scholars, journals filled with scientific evidence around the world.

vs.

In the other corner, The Hippocrates Health Institute of West Palm Beach, a licensed massage institute and its director, a man who calls himself doctor who is not an MD, one Brian Clement. According to scienceblog.com, its programs are a cornucopia of nearly every quackery on the planet.

We looked at their website. The website is very slick, replete with testimonials and promises, and physically the place could pass for a resort in Tahiti. A smiling personnel awaits you. A store will sell you its products. The founder is one Ann Wigmore, a self-educated nutritionist with a fondness for raw foods. I have no doubt a week or two spent there would be, for those of us with a penchant for alcohol, barbecue, stress, and worry, a healthy experience.

But surely, with a little more tact, a little more patience, a better way of explaining, a more thoughtful and empathic approach, some honesty coated with hope, understanding of human fear and trepidation, an understanding of a parent’s pain while watching a child in pain…. Well, maybe they tried their best. But really, surely the McMaster University Health Sciences Center should be able to win the hearts and minds of its patients over the Hippocrates Health Massage parlour of West Palm Beach.

Addendum on Nutrition By Dr David Laing Dawson

My mother (and I’m sure your mother) used to regularly tell us kids to “Eat your carrots.” This included raw carrots of course, though mostly boiled. She might vaguely mention they were good for eyesight, for night vision. And fish every Friday was good for the brain. Some greens on the plate were important, a little fruit every day. Brown bread was better than white. Not too much fat. Not too much meat. Plenty of “ruffage” for the bowels.  And chew carefully, eating slowly, while sitting at a table. Don’t skip breakfast.

If you need a snack between meals, eat an apple. Drink lots of water. And the only two supplements we received every morning were Vitamin D, and cod liver oil.

She was just my mother. I had no idea at the time that she was really a pioneer nutritionist. A pioneer in the field of alternative medicine circa 1950. Of course she didn’t know this either.

It is quite fascinating to learn that after another 64 years of scientific study, after countless reports and vastly increased knowledge of human physiology, there is little more to good nutrition than what my mother already knew. There have been many fads since. They come and go. But my mother’s ideas of good nutrition are the only ones that have withstood scientific study. So science supports my mother. And my mother knew, as does science, that though her nutritional advice was a good foundation for a healthy body and brain, it is not a cure for cancer.

Perhaps the even more fascinating thing is, that though science has so far proved my mother both correct and thorough in her advice, millions of people today follow wildly crazy nutritional patterns, usually propounded by other people set to make a profit on such behaviour, and more than a few are seduced into believing that my mother’s nutritional advice, coupled with my father’s advice to always look on the bright side and get a little exercise, cures cancer and numerous other diseases.

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Magic, Shamanism and Modern Science

stone of madnessBy Dr David Laing Dawson

This was in the news today:

“The judge deciding whether an aboriginal girl can forgo conventional cancer treatment for traditional healing questioned whether forcing chemotherapy would be “imposing our world view on First Nations.” ”

This child has an acute form of Leukemia that is known to be 100% fatal untreated, but, unlike most cancers, has a 90 to 95% chance of remission and cure if treated. That is the science of it. The western medical science.

The judge’s use of the term “world view” struck a cord with me, but rather than wading into this mine-field of misperception, mistrust, and down right denial of science, I will relate a story much closer to the reality of human behavior and human motivation.

Some years ago I was consulting in Northern Ontario when I found I had an appointment with an Ojibway medicine man in the town of Kenora. He was something of an itinerant medicine man, healer, shaman, traveling to reserves in Manitoba and Ontario as needed. He was a tall man, quite imposing, with dark eyes and a charismatic intensity. He introduced himself and told his story. He was scheduled (now “scheduled” is not quite the right word here, because it certainly was our Industrial Revolution that imposed scheduling) to perform, in the near future, a second try at exorcising a powerful and evil spirit that had invaded a woman’s body. He had performed one ceremony and failed, he explained. The beast was still within this woman and destroying her and making her behave in a psychotic manner. This invading spirit, this evil, was particularly pernicious (my word), and, once out of the suffering patient, was apt to invade an onlooker.

He invited me to attend the ceremony.

“But”, he said, “You should bring some holy water to protect yourself.” He said this with such conviction that I was quite prepared to visit the Catholic Church to ask the priest if I might borrow a little from the chalice.

We talked some more, and I explored and asked what I could about the nature of the ceremony and the woman’s symptoms, and I agreed to come when summoned. But as he got up to leave I was still puzzled by something. So I asked, hesitatingly, “But really, why would you want to have me at this ceremony?”

He looked at me and said, “You might bring some of those pills of yours.”

And then he left.

And I thought, a smart man, covering all his bases. Native spiritualism, Catholic magic, and Western Medicine. And also, I thought, a true reflection of where we really are: hankering for the magic world of the spirit, the certainty and comfort of religion, but relying on the wisdom of enlightenment and science. I would take some fast-acting anti-psychotic medication with me when called.