The great healthcare debate - constructive or divisive?

June 8, 2011, POSTED BY Anna Bowness-Park

By Anna Bowness-Park

Anna  has been a Christian Science practitioner of spiritual healing for twenty years. She is also the spokesperson for Christian Science in British Columbia and loves connecting with people in conversations about religion, spirituality and the role of prayer in healing.

Over the last hundred years the debate on health care has quickly moved from superstition and ignorance, to the present basis of  science, technology and medication. But the question I ask myself is, are we any healthier? This is not in any way a criticism of our current medical system. It is more a reflection on the whole idea of how we perceive and talk about health and health care.

One perspective on the body is that we are like a car – a collection of many material bits that every so often goes wrong and needs fixing. A different perspective is that there is more "under the hood" than just a bunch of matter parts – that there is an emotional/spiritual/mental component that needs tending to. These perspectives form the crux of an intense and often bitter debate.

A recent article in the The Economist states that a new study shows herbal medicines and alternative therapies as  useless, and that at best they are placebos. The suggestion is that the benefits patients receive are directly equated to what they believe in. That secondly, these benefits are related to the extra attention that patients receive from a holistic practitioner rather than a rather overworked family doctor. These notions are bound to upset many who feel that they have received very real and effectual help from alternative therapies and healing methods.

This negative attitude towards holistic health methods is not new, but the impressions that I have gained from attending several Health and Spirituality conferences at Medical Faculties at the University of Calgary and the University of British Columbia differs from this study. These conferences were not presented by flaky practitioners with flimsy, anecdotal stories. They were medical practitioners, researchers and nurses who, in their day-to-day practice on the front lines of hospitals and research, had come to the conclusion that there was definitely something more "under the hood" than an array of matter parts that needed a fix.  Some of these health practitioners were already practicing what is called “integrative” medicine, offering both a spiritual and a medical component to their treatments. Others were more fully into a spiritual practice of health care.

Health care has always been a hot-button topic, with people in opposite camps ready to do battle to defend their point of view. Articles and studies, such as the one in The Economist, do nothing to help the discussion, or those who are suffering. Rather they stoke the fires of heated rhetoric.

As the debate rages, new realizations are dawning about health and its relation to a sense of wholeness – and perhaps to an inner spirituality. This is not a new debate but rather an age-old one. Fashions and theories have always attended the question of health care; but I rather wonder – in such a materialistic era as this – does our materialism color the way we see health? We may be living longer, but are we healthier? And how does our materialistic viewpoint influence health care methods and outcomes? Statistics claim that we are a more anxious, stressed and fearful society than we have ever been. Emergency rooms are bursting at the seams, Nurses and doctors are stressed to breaking point. It is a rarity to find people over the age of 65 years who are not on several medications. Mental illness is reaching epidemic proportions in all age groups. Obesity is a serious global problem.

Health care is a discussion that needs to take place without inflammatory rhetoric and rigid opinions. Perhaps we need to step back a bit, listen to each others' stories and experiences, and acknowledge that perhaps there may be many different roads to health care, and that each road needs respectful attention.

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