Death and Resurrection in Science and Medicine

Rising from the Ashes of Corruption and Betrayal

At Easter we celebrate the fact that life may be harmed, but it cannot be vanquished. Not even by death. The religious mind contemplates the great mystery of the apparent finality of death in contrast to the observed reality of life triumphing over death. On the personal scale, many of us have experienced rising from the ashes following an illness or an emotional disaster. On the global scale, we sometimes see entire ecosystems repairing themselves against all odds and in totally unexpected ways of adaptation to environmental toxins, and from the geological record we know that new and wonderful life forms have appeared after every global extinction event which happens about every 27 million years.

Death and resurrection are realities of the spirit as well as of the physical world. But a resurrection experience — on whatever scale and in whatever realm of experience — can be very disorienting. The renewal of life, when it occurs, is total and nothing will be the same as it had been before death. Resurrection always follows a great betrayal, which comes first and leads to resurrection only when it has been fully endured. The death Jesus died 2,000 years ago, the current impending demise of our ecologically murderous economic paradigm of infinite growth, and the disarray medicine finds itself in today, are all examples of terrible endurance marathons caused by a great betrayal. It is, therefore, a thought worthy of contemplation that Easter is, metaphorically speaking, a way of life.

In the politics of medicine, which is the politics that affects life in all its aspects and especially its future, we are witnessing this year the commencement of a resurrection program which is universally acknowledged as such by those who fought for seven years to get the world to agree to it, as well as by those who fear its consequences: The Kyoto Protocol became international law on February 16. Most like it, and many will have to lump it, because this treaty ensures that business as usual is over; 141 countries ratified the treaty that will eventually stop carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. The Canadian Medical Association Journal views the health implications of this treaty for all of humanity as so momentous, they devoted an editorial to it in their February 15 issue. It is one of the best overviews I have yet seen of the connection between climate and health, and its political basis, especially when read together with the same journal’s global analysis from 2000 (volume 163 no 6; all CMAJ articles are available for free on the internet).

The world’s collective mind has agreed that there really is an iceberg out there, and that the Titanic must slow down now, and do so fast. Indeed, Good Ship Earth is changing course towards the “Bill of Rights for Future Generations.” A friend gave me a copy of it; I don’t know the source or author:

“We, the People of the Future, like the twenty thousand generations who came before us, have the right to breathe air that smells sweet, to drink water that runs pure and free, to swim in waters that teem with life, and to grow our food in rich, living earth. We have the right to inherit a world unsullied by toxic chemicals, nuclear waste, or genetic pollution… We beseech you, the People of Today: do not leave your dirty messes for us to clean up; do not take technological risks, however small, that may backfire catastrophically in times to come… We grant these same rights and privileges to the generations who will come after us. We do so in the sacred hope that the human spirit will prevail.”

Admitting that our climate and physical environment is more important, in the long run, than making money as efficiently and frantically as possible, in the short run, undoubtedly will change our economic system totally, possibly with in less than a century. The unspoken message at the core of the Kyoto Protocol is that whatever I do unto you, I am also doing unto myself. We share the same little aquarium hurtling through infinite space. There is nowhere else to go. This planet is it, and the future is now.

THE DEMISE OF PHARMACEUTICAL MEDICINE

Medicine as we knew it is dying from its own great betrayals. Almost every day, we hear about another blockbuster drug having been taken off the market, or having a serious warning attached to it. A quick look at Health Canada’s web-based drug advisories looks like a countdown for the disappearance of virtually all major classes of drugs, starting a few years ago and now so rapid that it looks like drug therapeutics is in a free-fall into oblivion: the NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Vioxx, Celebrex, etc.), the cholesterol-lowering drugs, the entire class of antidepressants and hormone-replacement therapies, various antihistamines and diabetes drugs, the leading drug for ADHD, and many more are either being pulled off the market, under scrutiny for possible removal, or “blackboxed.” At the rate at which adverse event reports are piling up and drugs are being designated as hazardous we may soon have the whole Canadian drug compendium on advisory status at Health Canada and the FDA.

Simultaneously, revelations are appearing in the mainstream press almost daily on how drug manufacturers knew long ago of these dangers, but kept them hidden to ensure profits for their shareholders whose wealth is based on this lucrative industry. The US watchdog Public Citizens reported on August 3, 2004, that AstraZeneca was going through a painful tap dance with the FDA, trying to avoid releasing the company’s internal data on their cholesterol-lowering drug Crestor — data that turned out to be damning, especially since this drug had already been linked to birth defects a few months earlier (Health Day, April 7, 2004).

Lipobay, a drug of similar chemistry made by Germany’s Bayer, (also marketed as Baycol, now withdrawn from the market and chemically similar to our Lipidor), has resulted in out-of court settlements in excess of $1.1 billion US for harm to patients in 2,900 legal actions. Bayer has to settle another 6,389 pending actions. By December, the FDA took on AstraZeneca and listed Crestor as a hazardous drug (USA Today, Dec. 11,2004). Similarly, Pfizer evidently knew that its arthritis drug Celebrex increased the risk of heart attacks and stroke, but also kept their data under wraps (Washington Post, February 1, 2005). Finally, Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of Prozac, was proven to have known of that drug’s increased risk of suicide as far back as 1988 when it was first developed, but chose to hide the data (reported in January by the BBC, the British Medical Journal; see also The Washington Post, February 18, 2005).

It is now dawning on doctors that they were basically trained to be pushers of drugs, which in the long run do more harm than good, sometimes kill people, are based on fraudulent or unverifiable secret industry science, and were approved for use by corrupt regulatory agencies betraying the public interest. The February 10 editorial of the New England Journal of Medicine discusses the fact that virtually all continuing medical education (mandatory for maintaining one’s medical licence) is organized and controlled by the drug industry — to the tune of $971 million US by 2003. The returns on this investment in ensuring medical ignorance come from the prescriptions that ring in by the billions and are, therefore, well worth Big Pharma’s effort. NEJM’s editorial says this state of affairs must stop, and stop it will: as of March this year all medical journals have agreed to publish only research that has its clinical trials registered for open, impartial scrutiny.

The February 15 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal has an article on drug ads for doctors which reported that 58% of the supposedly “original research” cited in the fine print of the ads were found to be meaningless because their authors were all affiliated with the drug’s manufacturer. That means that the raw data, upon which the conclusions are based, are not available to the general public or even the governmental regulatory agencies for verification. Even worse, this article reports that “Many pharmaceutical ads contain no references for their medical claims,” thereby assuming the reader is gullible or stupid.

In a new book by Dr. Carolyn Dean and Trueman Tuck, Death by Modern Medicine (March 2005), they discuss just how bad things have become. Based on investigations originally begun by Johns Hopkins Medical School and the US Office of Technology Assessment, they show that the primary causes of death are drugs and inappropriate medical interventions. It is a must-read for anybody who wants to know what minefields to avoid and how to recognize them in the first place. Indeed, it is so meticulously researched, you may find that your own doctor, who is likely to feel as betrayed as you do, may also want to read it because it shows how the doctors are being systematically betrayed and kept in the dark.

Over the past year, whistleblowers have testified in court or before government committees about how they were forced to approve unsafe drugs or were forbidden to publish negative research results. For example, the December 2, 2004, issue of Nature reported on the testimony before Congress by FDA drug safety chief Dr. David Graham. A 20-year veteran with the FDA, Dr. Graham submitted his research on the dangers of the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx to the prestigious medical journal The Lancet recommending the drug’s withdrawal. The FDA’s acting director contacted the editors of The Lancet and alleged “manipulated data” — the very worst allegation possible against a scientist. Dr. Graham was forced to withdraw his paper under threat of being fired, so took his research before Congress and, thereby, to the people whom he feels it is his duty to protect. He estimates that Vioxx killed at least 139,000 people in North America over the past few years (Health Day News, Jan. 5, 2005 based on reports published in The Lancet and the Financial Times.)

It can’t get any worse. So, the FDA announced the appointment of a board, independent of the drug companies, to monitor drug safety. According to the February 16 Washington Post, this board will ensure that the FDA “will release safety information even…if the release displeases drug companies.” Now how about that: The FDA is going displease Big Pharma — what a concept! The FDA admitted that it “needs to adopt the mentality that the public wants to know and the public needs to know…rather than simply saying we can’t reveal trade secrets.” Wow! Somebody should send Health Canada this clipping for comment. Dr. David Graham said, “Until drug safety becomes as important as approving drugs quickly…unsafe drugs will continue to be approved and stay on the market.”

The New England Journal of Medicine’s editor, Dr. Jeffrey M. Drazen, devoted most of the journal’s February 15 issue to the anti-inflammatory drug mess (Celebrex and Vioxx), and in his editorial takes the whole of drug therapeutics back to Hippocrates by observing, “As we…develop new medicines, we must not forget that our first job is to do no harm.” Resurrection undoubtedly will follow and medicine will never be the same again.

RESURRECTION OF INTEGRITY IN THE WORLD OF SCIENCE AND MEDICINE

Anyone who followed the saga of the Kyoto Protocol’s passage will have noticed that religious imagery and metaphors from all traditions became increasingly common in the discourse supporting the treaty. Indeed, it seems that the centuries’ old conflict between science and religion is becoming meaningless in the light of what science has revealed about the magnitude of the human potential for destruction. Kyoto arose out of an ever-intensifying understanding of humanity’s place in nature, brought about by both science and religious insight.

Some of the deeply meaningful messages of the world’s great religions are once again nourishing the spirit, all teaching spiritual transformation and resurrection. Notwithstanding the betrayal of science by those who abuse it for short-term profit, disregarding all of science’s first duty to do no harm, much of science is renewing itself. The real thing is beginning to come through again as humanity has acknowledged its common dependence on clean air, soil and water.

When the Buddha taught that “we make the world with our thoughts” he also described the essence of pollution — all of which starts with abstract thoughts of chemistry and cash. Jesus observed, probably with a deep sigh, in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, “the glory of God is spread out upon this earth, but you do not see it.” Waking up to the reality of our planet and life in all its wonder dispels the need for illusory improvement for the sake of personal gain.

In Hinduism we have the image of Indra’s net: Indra, the king of the gods, created a net in which every knot contains a huge cut diamond. The universe is cradled within that vast net, and therefore everything in the universe is mirrored an infinite number of times so that it is impossible to tell the difference between cause and effect or source and reflection. That is the ecological worldview par excellence.

Of course, we have a long way to go. The Kyoto Protocol is a promise of resurrection. But comfort comes from a Talmudic teaching that “we need not complete the task, but we must begin it.”


References

• T. S. Cowan MD, The Fourfold Path to Healing: Working with the Laws of Nutrition, Therapeutics, Movement and Meditation in the Art of Medicine, New Trends, 2004 (order through or 619-462-7600)

• C. Dean MD & T. Tuck, Death By Modern Medicine, March 2005, call 1-888-872-7035

• S.J. Gould, Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, Ballantine, 1999

• H. F. Judson, The Great Betrayal: Fraud in Science, Harcourt, 2004

• S. Rampton & J. Stauber, Trust Us, We’re Experts!, Tarcher Putnam, 2001

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