One of my favorite Catholic bloggers, Simcha Fisher, wrote a piece over at the National Catholic Register entitled “Science, Catholics, and Fear.” It was published earlier this week and upon reading it I walked away unnerved, irritated and a little defensive. I took a few days to chew it over and I even had an in-depth conversation about the article with my husband. I wanted to be sure that my response came from a place of charity and humility and not from wounded pride.
I think my irritation with the written words was that they seemed to speak a bias against natural living and alternative medicine. But, when I re-read the article I read that Simcha is speaking of the EXTREME focus of natural living and alternative medicine, people who deny the need for medicine altogether. She may or may not have a bias towards western allopathic medicine. She may or may not have a bias towards homeopathic or holistic medicine. I can only go by her words in this article as I have never had the pleasure of speaking with her in person, especially not on this topic. And when we speak of extremes in almost any circumstance, we can be sure the Church cautions us to be balanced, instructs us to seek counsel, and implores us to discern before making any decisions.
As one who has struggled with chronic illness and found help lacking within the medical realm, I felt led to explore other options, alternatives to western medicine in search of finding the truth about what ailed me. I will admit to my skepticism of doctors. It was not always so. My biggest trial came with the birth of my eighth child when the doctor physically violated me while I was in labor. I was in such shock at what she had done that I remained calm as I questioned her actions. I fired her, but she refused to get another doctor. We left the hospital and I had the baby within 15 minutes of arriving home, despite the doctor’s condescending announcement that I was not in labor. It is a long story, but one that illustrates well how some doctors can and do use power to coerce vulnerable patients. My next birth was watched over by a very caring and respectful doctor who saved my baby’s and my life. So, this was a very real experience that taught me to be wary of extremes and of labeling an entire group of people based on the actions of a few.
Just as Simcha pointed out that there are extremists who deny all medicine and science as bad, there are extremists at the opposite end of the spectrum who are just as quick to deny the alternatives. In fact I have found very few medical doctors who will even acknowledge natural remedies or alternatives. It took me a long time to find an OB/GYN who would even allow me to use NFP without getting into a verbal duel over its effectiveness. Those doctors that supported and encouraged NFP and did not prescribe bc pills were Catholic doctors who had been trained in NaPro Technology. But when I wanted to have a home birth, the wonderful Catholic doctor who supported my use of NFP and didn’t harass me to get my tubes tied, was adamantly opposed to home birth and could only give me generic reasons based upon fear in his defense against it. He offered no valid reason why I should not have a home birth with that particular pregnancy.
I hesitate to even mention vaccinations. It is such a controversial topic these days, but only because people feel like they have to take a stance for or against. Extremes and fear rule the discussions on both sides of the debate. Fear of toxins, autism, or other side effects keep people from vaccinating their children while fear of Polio, Chicken Pox, and Whooping Cough with possibilities of hospitalization or even death drive people to vaccinate for every possible disease. I’m over simplifying the debate to be sure, but I firmly believe that each parent should make the decision for each child. Parents should not be bullied by family, friends or health care providers in either direction. Information, education and facts should be given, but not threats of firing you as a patient or calling CPS because you don’t agree. Neither should the provider dismiss the importance of vaccinations without backing up their claims with scientific fact.
Interestingly enough, I have never felt pressure from the holistic health care providers. My midwife answered any questions I posed to her, but she never tried to talk me into any decision. Even when I was struggling to decide hospital vs. home, she simply answered with facts while my medical doctor denounced home birth as utterly dangerous with no supporting evidence as to why it would be a risk for my situation. My Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, my Chiropractor, my midwife—none of these people has ever pressured me to make a decision, but they educate and encourage me to take responsibility for whatever decision I do make. To me this is the greatest benefit to holistic medicine. You form relationships with your caregivers. They are not just looking at one part of you, the part that ails you, but all of you: your whole body, your family, your spiritual journey. To be fair I have found an excellent medical doctor who also treats me with this same respect and he refers to the afore-mentioned holistic providers. He is the only medical doctor that I have met who is open to holistic medicine and combines the methods to treat his patients (other than my nephew who lives several states away).
But I digress, my point is that fear should never be a deciding factor as fear is not from God. As I read the comments after Simcha’s blog post, I was saddened by the ignorant rants against natural remedies. One person wrote of his cousin’s battle with cancer. She had chosen a natural route and died. His wife had cancer, chosen the medical route and survived. He surmised that medicine saved his wife, while the natural route was the cause of his cousin’s death. Another used Steven Jobs’ death as an example of failed natural treatment. Used is the proper word here. Why do we get to condemn someone’s personal decision for healthcare treatment? Would we dare to scoff at someone who underwent chemo and months of radiation and lost the battle with cancer? Would we claim that medicine doesn’t work? If so, then shame on us! Just because a natural remedy did not work for some, does not mean it doesn’t work at all. On the same note, we should support and encourage each other to discern the path God chooses for us be it medial or natural, or a combination of the two.
There is a much greater bias in our society against natural medicine than there are extreme views against modern medicine. I have faced it personally and continue to do so. In fact, I was once guilty of the bias myself. It stems from ignorance. Denying the natural solutions is as much an affront against science as the denial of modern medicine. Simcha expresses worry for the loss of our “science and reason” roots as Catholics. But, for thousands of years, herbs and nutrition were the first defense against disease. Essential oils were used by the Egyptians. Oils are mentioned over 200 times in the Bible. A recent article spoke of the benefits of aromatherapy and Frankincense. You don’t get much more Catholic than incense! St. Hildegarde, a Benedictine cloistered nun was known as a healer and wrote volumes on the benefits of plants and herbs. She is sited several times in the Essential Oils Reference book that I use for my own family. The bias also stems from fear. It takes faith and courage to step away from the main stream way of doing things and follow the path less traveled. One of the greatest risks in looking at alternatives is not the risk of life, but the risk of losing our pride. If I had not improved after venturing down this trail, people surely would have shaken their heads and scoffed at my failure. If I had continued to spend thousands of dollars on drugs and medical specialists and failed to improve, people would have probably shaken their heads in pity and then pointed me to yet another doctor or medicine to try. Even in death, allopathic medical limitations are rarely blamed, but accepted as the human limitations that they are. I’m just asking that we give nature the same respect. After all, modern medicine’s roots stem from nature. Pun intended.