Big Placebo says Medicine never cures anything


Kudos to Lindsay Beyerstein of Majikthise for coining a new phrase “Big Placebo.” Big Placebo is the alternative health counterpart to Big Pharma. Both are special interest groups designed to promote their products, whether they are worthy of promotion or not. There is one big difference between them: Big Pharma makes products that usually work (though not always, and sometimes not safely). Big Placebo hawks books and products that never work.

Big Placebo is unsatisfied with the $40 billion it takes in every year on treatments that don’t even work. They’re aiming for a much larger piece of the healthcare pie and to do so they are criticizing modern medicine. I have previously written about the disingenuous efforts to focus attention on preventing diseases in the “worried well” as opposed to curing diseases of the poor and medically underserved.

To hear Big Placebo tell it, virtually all illness can be prevented and anyone who gets sick deserves it because of poor lifestyle choices. If only that were so. Unfortunately, most illness and disease is caused by factors beyond people’s control, including infectious agents, genetic defects and inherited predispositions.

Another axiom in the Big Placebo armamentarium is the notion that contemporary American Medicine cures nothing and merely “manages” diseases. According to “Dr.” John Neustadt (naturopathic doctor) writing in the Huffington Post:

The current system teaches disease management and symptom suppression, which is insufficient to meet our healthcare needs. A reformed system needs a new paradigm that stresses health promotion and treatments that attempt to correct the underlying causes of disease.

Dr. Andrew Weill, of Weil Lifestyles LLC, licensing Weil Nutritional Supplements (vitamins and supplements), Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins (skin-care products), Pet Promise (premium pet food), Dr. Andrew Weil for Tea (premium teas), Lucini Italia Organics(organic extra virgin olive oil and whole, peeled tomatoes), Weil by Nature’s Path (organic cereals and nutrition bars), Weil for Vital Choice, Weil Baby™ (baby feeding systems), Weil by Vita Foods, and Orthaheel™, claims:

By no stretch of the imagination does mainstream American “health care” move us closer to this vision of robust, resilient health. It is a fiscally unsustainable, technology-centric, symptom-focused disease-management system.

To hear them tell it, American medicine cures nothing. It simply manages disease and suppresses symptoms. It is a measure of the astounding success of the American medical system that anyone could listen to that drivel and not fall to the floor laughing hysterically. American medicine cures so much disease, involving so many people, so reliably and so often that everyone takes it for granted.

Evidently American Medicine doesn’t cure anything except … tuberculosis, pneumonia, bacterial meningitis, gonorrhea, any bacterial illness you care to name. American medicine routinely cures previously deadly conditions like appendicitis, ectopic pregnancies and obstetric hemorrhage. Better yet, it can completely prevent many viral and bacterial scourges through vaccination. It’s not a coincidence that American lifespan has increased from 48 years to 77.7 years in slightly more than a century. Much of what routinely killed Americans is now routinely cured.

In fact, cure is so routine that these illnesses rarely enter American consciousness. No one worries about dying from tertiary syphilis, diphtheria or rheumatic heart disease. Those diseases are routinely prevented or cured in their early stages.

And “disease management” is hardly a deficiency, either. Some diseases cannot yet be cured. Until the day that a cure is discovered, we manage those diseases. Juvenile (type I) diabetes was uniformly fatal until the discovery of insulin. Insulin doesn’t cure diabetics; it merely allows them to live an addition 50 years or more. Instead of dying in childhood, type I diabetics routinely live to have and enjoy grandchildren. Such “disease management” is worthy of praise, not the contempt that Big Placebo attempts to heap on it.

Can we do better? Of course we can, particularly in the areas of diseases caused by smoking and alcohol abuse. However, that’s a far cry from claiming that American Medicine doesn’t cure disease. That cynical and disingenuous claim should be understood for what it is, Big Placebo’s attempt to line its own pockets. Alternative health purveyors and practitioners are charlatans and quacks … and liars, to boot.