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Postmodernism and You: Health Care
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Dónal O'Mathúna, Ph.D., Contributor

Medicine and health care are perfect examples of how we may be affected by the new postmodern thinking, even when we have no involvement with the technical side of the philosophy itself.

Health care today is increasingly including what practitioners call "alternative medicine." These therapies are known variously as alternative medicines, fringe medicine, New Age healing, or nonlocal medicine. For the purpose of clarity, we will use the term "alternative medicine" in this chapter. This is a good term because the National Institutes of Health recently formed the Office of Alternative Medicine to investigate these therapies.

Two of the most popular schools of alternative medicine are Therapeutic Touch and Ayurvedic Medicine. Both draw their views from the same two sources: Eastern mystical religion and postmodernism.

Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurveda is the traditional medicine of India. The word literally means "science of life," but there is a deeper spiritual basis for the practice. The best-known proponent of Ayurvedic Medicine in the United States is Deepak Chopra, MD. He is the author of numerous books on this subject, including the best-sellers, Quantum Healing, Perfect Health, and Ageless Body, Timeless Mind. These have been translated into 25 languages. Chopra practiced modern Western medicine until returning to India to learn Ayurveda from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced Transcendental Meditation to the West. Maharishi has bestowed Chopra with the title, "Dhanvantari (Lord of Immortality), the keeper of perfect health for the world."

According to his view, the basic substance of our bodies is not matter, but energy and information. This life energy, or Prana, is nonphysical and flows through everyone, animating and sustaining us. True health results from a balanced flow of this energy through the body. Imbalances in the flow lead to physical symptoms which we recognize as illness, aging and death.

Therapeutic Touch

While Ayurveda gains popularity in the general population, Therapeutic Touch is popular in the nursing profession. It is currently taught in over 80 colleges and universities in the United States, and in more than 70 other countries, especially in schools of nursing. The National League for Nursing accredits nursing colleges in the United States and has endorsed Therapeutic Touch.

Therapeutic Touch also focuses on the energy field around human bodies, again called Prana. Also like Ayurvedic Medicine, these practitioners focus on balancing the flow of one's Prana in order to heal.

The doctrine for both these popular forms of alternative medicine come from the same source--Hinduism. Why, then, are we discussing them in the context of a book on postmodernism?

Alternative Medicine and Postmodernism

Postmodernism is not the source for alternative medical ideas, but it is the Trojan Horse that has brought primitive outlooks like alternative medicine to prominence and acceptability on campuses today.

Modern scientists have known the views behind alternative medicine for a long time. But these views have been rejected for some very good scientific reasons. Most important, as we shall see, proponents of alternative medicine cannot demonstrate that it works. However, in the postmodern environment at most of our academic institutions, theories like those used in alternative medicine cannot be critiqued freely.

Postmodernism denies many of the ways by which a world view, or a medical therapy, can be assessed and judged. Therefore bogus research may carry as much weight as properly structured and controlled research, especially if it derives its content from one of the oppressed non-western cultures, like that of India.

Almost anything can gain credibility, once scientific methodology is declared nothing more than a cultural bias--namely, that of western Europe. But the consequences of this shift may be serious, including dangerous long-term effects on people's health.

How Postmodernism Supports Alternative Medicine

Postmodernists argue that reality is not as rigid as we once thought. They claim that the idea of objective reality is a metaphor to help us communicate. Such a view of reality is compatible with alternative medicine in a way modernism never was. In short, alternative medical apologists use three standard postmodern directions of argument:

  1. They cast doubt on the findings of traditional biochemical medicine, arguing that it is merely an outgrowth of a western (modernist) mentality which is materialistic, male dominated and cold.
  2. They argue that alternative medicine is the product of the "marginalized" or oppressed minority culture in the west. They claim that criticisms of alternative medicine are nothing but power posturing by the medical establishment, who endeavor to preserve their control of medicine.
  3. They seek to replace objective, rational experimental data as the basis for accepting the value of a therapy with a new basis: personal experience.

Case in Point: The University of Colorado

A recent investigation into the teaching of Therapeutic Touch at the University of Colorado provides a good example of postmodern debating tactics.

A group of citizens in Colorado questioned the teaching of Therapeutic Touch at the University of Colorado's Center of Human Caring. They complained that tax moneys should not be spent teaching a technique which was based, not in science, but in New Age religion. The University convened a panel of faculty from both that university and elsewhere to examine the scientific evidence for Therapeutic Touch. The peer review panel concluded that "there is not a sufficient body of data, both in quality and quantity, to establish TT as a unique and efficacious healing modality." They recommended the practice not be taught for another 20 years until sufficient evidence had been established to validate it.

The response to this report was very postmodern. According to one of the critics of Therapeutic Touch, the Center's Watson and Quinn viewed the finding "as male-dominated medical imperialism against female-dominated nursing." In their view, the evidence was not as important as the ones interpreting it. As support, Watson claimed, "We would like to imagine our whole lives are rational and science-based, but only 15% of medical interventions are supported by solid scientific evidence." In the end, the University has allowed Watson's Center to continue teaching Therapeutic Touch on the basis of academic freedom.

Postmodernism poses threats to people's thinking in a number of areas. But in health care, it also poses a threat to their bodies. Instead of receiving treatments that actually work, those who place their hope in postmodern-defended alternative medicine can easily end up failing to treat serious conditions. Meanwhile, students in medical and nursing schools nationwide are being urged, or even required to tamper with the occult in the name of alternative medicine. None of this would have been possible without the postmodern shift in thinking.

The Rest of the Story

Read The Death of Truth, where you will learn:
  • about the documentation for the whole alternative medical movement, including their explanations in their own words.
  • about the shortcomings of the supposedly huge body of experimental and clinical data supporting alternative medical theories. In fact, outside review has discredited all their work.
  • how the apologists for alternative medicines use postmodern rhetorical ploys to divert scientific criticism of their questionable techniques.
  • how the Bible views these practices.

Copyright © 1996 Xenos Christian Fellowship.
All Rights Reserved.

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