More on Medical Miracles
I think the discussion of medical miracles which has been going on in the Comment section of my last post is worthy of publishing as a new post. And so here it is...
At Wed Jun 22, 07:29:19 PM 2005, Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...
For those interested in music therapy, there is the website of the Healing Music Organization. The organization is described as follows: "The Healing Music Organization (HMO) provides information, resources, tools, and a forum for dialogue to people interested in the healing power of sound and music. The Healing Music Organization serves as a bridge between the worlds of spirituality, art, and medicine by honoring the value of each modality. We support the concept of miracles in healing when the body, mind and spirit learn to harmonize together and resonate with the vast energy of the universe." Some interesting research results regarding music, sound and vibration are described on the site.
There is no doubt that music plays a major role in our life from iPod, dance parties, concerts and even "elevator music". As with poetry and humor, it is hard to know to what extent these media are truely therapeutic for disease as a part of alternate therapy in the individual patient. But since they all, in a proper titration, often appear to relieve stress, that in itself is a good. ..Maurice.
At Thu Jun 23, 12:24:38 PM 2005, Bob Koepp said...
Music, poety, dance, close friendships -- all these and many more have a place in helping us to maintain or recover our health. But miracles? I have a few problems here, not the least of which is trying to get clear about just what a miracle is.
For example, the Healing Music Organization that Maurice mentions seems to view miracles as somehow related to what can happen "when the body, mind and spirit learn to harmonize together and resonate with the vast energy of the universe." Let's suppose that such harmonic resonance actually occurs, and actually correlates with healing not otherwise attributable to medical interventions or the natural restorative, regenerative capacities of organisms. Wouldn't the assumed connection to getting into the "universal groove" suggest that there's something wholly natural (i.e., non-miraculous) taking place?
At Thu Jun 23, 05:21:01 PM 2005, Alyssa Uphoff said...
The birth of a baby is “wholly natural” but do we think that it is inappropriate for parents to call the new addition their “little miracle”?
In my experience, the feeling that something is miraculous (or not) is entirely up to the individual. The same exact event can be viewed by multiple people: for one: it may be a miracle, for another: serendipity, you: a scientific or natural course of events. I don’t think that we should discount patients, or their families, when they believe a miracle has occurred or are hoping for one to occur. If a person with cancer improves and goes into remission, someone might say that it is thanks to the chemo, radiation, surgery, or some other treatment. For someone else, that can be a miraculous event. A woman was sure she would die, but she didn’t. Maybe she believes God worked through the medicine. Or touched her divinely and healed her. I don’t think that anyone should try to take that from her.
I think that it is more complicated when serious injury and terminal conditions are on the line. Very often in a consultation, after a lengthy discussion regarding why it a certain treatment was no longer helping, a patient’s family member can see that they are losing ground in the fight to “save” the patient, and will look at the physician and say, “But doctor, don’t you believe in miracles?” Almost every doctor I know said, “No.” For many people in the medical community, the word miracle is extremely dangerous. Families sometimes use their hope for a miracle recovery as ammunition to keep a patient on artificial treatments, even when there is insurmountable evidence that their loved one will not survive, will never again regain consciousness, that a limb must be amputated, etc., etc.
In my opinion, discounting a person’s hope for a miracle is an insensitive and unwise move. So what if it is illogical and unreasonable? While illness can be academically internalized by those people on the treatment team, many families feel like they are lost and outnumbered. They are pushed to make life and death decisions that for which they are not prepared. They cannot get their way with an academically fueled battle, so they bring out the irrational “miracle.” I found though that acknowledging their hope helped us make more headway. If you open up the discussion of hope and spirituality then the family can sometimes feel less alienated and angry.
At Thu Jun 23, 08:28:38 PM 2005, Bob Koepp said...
I certainly didn't intend to suggest that there aren't very many interesting and valuable perspectives from which people can view events. And of course people apply the term 'miracle' to all sorts of events. I'm even quite willing to explore the therapeutic value of harmonic resonances, an idea at least as old as Pythagoras.
But there's also a long and sordid history of miraculous cures and flim flam that plays on the vulnerabilities of sick people. When an organization endorses the "concept of miracles in healing", it is time to be vigilant.
At Thu Jun 23, 08:59:15 PM 2005, Alyssa Uphoff said...
I agree that the way that HMO characterized their mission seems to play on those vulnerabilities.