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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

cancer: cures and healing « Previous | |Next »
February 16, 2005

This is a more philosophical post than is normal on the public opinion weblog. But it is about cancer and the Senate cancer inquiry initiated by Senator Peter Cook.

I've found the book online that Senator Cook mentioned was important to him in helping deal with his cancer, and which motivated his concern to set up a Senate Inquiry into evaluating different cancer treatments. It is Michael Lerner's 'Choices In Healing: Integrating The Best of Conventional and Complementary Approaches to Cancer'.

I notice that Lerner has also made the connection between health and the environment, in particular the way

...people are troubled by scientific evidence that manmade chemicals, the depletion of the ozone layer, climate change, and the new infectious disease agents emerging from habitat destruction may threaten their health and the health of those they care about.

After reading the Preface, Introduction and the first two chapters of Choices In Healing I realized that here is the modern verison of the classical conception of a therapeutic, ethical philosophy as a way of life, or an art of living well.

This conception of philosophy is motivated by a therapeutic concern to remove those poisonous beliefs and values that make our way of life sick. The task is just like the medical doctor, namely, to identify what makes us sick, offer a diagnosis and suggest a remedy that will cure the sickness. The basic argument is that many of the ills we suffer from are due to mistaken beliefs about what is truly good, by which is meant a flourishing life well lived. The diagnosis is that we have invested our hope in the wrong things, or at least invested it in the wrong way. Our capacity to flourish and be happy (to attain eudaimonia) is dependent upon our own characters, how we dispose ourselves to ourselves, to others, and to events generally. The aim of this conception of ethical philosophy is to help us to live flourishing lives by dealing with those ideas, values, beliefs and practices that help to make us sick.

How does Michael Lerner reconnect with this classical conception of philosophy that has been all but forgotten?

He does so with his distinction between curing and healing, which he says lies at the heart of all genuinely patient-centered approaches to cancer treatment and care.He says:

...a cure is a successful medical treatment. In other words, a cure is a treatment that removes all evidence of the disease and allows the person who previously had cancer to live as long as he would have lived without cancer. A cure is what the physician hopes to bring to the patient. Curing is what the doctors hope to do...

On the other hand, healing is an inner process through which a person becomes whole:
Healing can take place at the physical level, as when a wound or broken bone heals. It can take place at an emotional level, as when we recover from terrible childhood traumas or from a death or a divorce. It can take place at a mental level, as when we learn to reframe or restructure destructive ideas about ourselves and the world that we carried in the past.

Cure and healing are intertwined.

Lerner says that the starting point for informed choice in both mainstream and complementary cancer therapies is the patient's recognition that s/he can play a crucial role in the fight for his life through the healing process. It is the healing process that enables each of us to reach beyond choices about therapy to choices about how we intend to live each day for the rest of our lives. Healing is Lerner's name for the classical conception of philsophy as a way of life or the art of living well.

If we re-describe the cure/healing distinction into public health policy terms we have the discourses of biomedicine and allied health (which Lerner calls biopsychosocial medicine).The biomedical discourse is about physical processes of disease, the relief of pain and physiological process of curing. The allied health discourse is about the human experience of disease (illness), pain (suffering) and the human experience of healing.

Biomedicine's knowedge/power (science plus the biomedical-industrial complex) works to separate itself from allied health and biopsychosocial medicine. The knowledge-power of biomedicine understands the physician-scientist to be a technician who offer the patient his technical/expert skills, and deploys the mind body duality to stay out of what they describe as psychological and spiritual issues. The medical gaze of biomedicine sees allied health as inferior practice rather than a complimentary one.

An interview with Michael Lerner.

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| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:17 AM | | Comments (0)