Monday, November 14, 2005

Another Reason to Question "Medical Breakthroughs"...
Among thetypically useless thoughts that sometimes cross the empty space between my ears is the nature and results of scientific research. Particularly when it comes to that oft repeated and never-satisfactorily-answered question: "Why haven't 'they' found a cure for ________?"

'They', of course, is the nameless, faceless, unidentifiable cabal that somehow knows all, sees all and is merely holding every potential boon to mankind in a closet someplace in Peoria, under orders from the Illuminati , the Rothchilds, Opus Dei, and the Council on Foreign Relations. But I digress...

Now I do not mean to imply that I have the kind of mind that is scientifically sharp, or which understands all the witchcraft involved in organic chemistry, genetics, genone manipulation, mutation and the Grand Theory of Yahtze. I don't. If you asked me what I thought scientists do all day, I'd tell you they probably surf the net and occasionally mix up gunk in a laboratory that eventually becomes "this year's HOTTEST Christmas Gift Item!!!"

I'm certain that this is, of course, a fallacy (sniff, sniff. Smell that? That was sarcasm). Asking me for a scientific opinion on anything would be like asking your bowling instructor to explain the Theory of Gramscian Socialism. In other words, chances are he would probably know slightly more about that subject than I would about anything scientific.

That having been said, I get to the purpose of this little screed.

My eyes and ears were assaulted (yes, that is the correct word) by a local TV news report this evening concerning the combination of some gunk with some other foreign substance usually used to kill household pests (I think, I'm not up on this scientific mumbo-jumbo, but I believe it was a mixture of glucosomine and Tylenol) into a "combination therapy" that seems to help people with rheumatoid arthrititis deal with the pain associated with the disease. The one (that's one) patient they interviewed on this subject actually uses this therapy and claims it works for her. The one (that's one) doctor they interviewed stated that while it seems to work for her patient (the one they interviewed), no one seems to know just why.

The implication, of course, is that the doctor is prescribing a therapy involving the combination of drugs to her patient because her symptoms are relieved, but no one knows why it works or what it might do to her. It seems to me that the doctor, at a loss for something else to do, has abrogated her responsibility to her patient by allowing her to engage in a therapy that has little or no scientific foundation. The idea is simply that "it works" and that's all there is to it. Now the poor woman can stop bothering me every 15 minutes for a new prescription or bitching about her pain.

The reporter who covered this story (himself a doctor) did in fact bring up the question as to whether this therapy actually worked or merely acted as a placebo, but declined to follow up. He got a "this is not a placebo, it works!" from the patient and that was the end of it. He finished up by beseeching viewers to check with their physician before begining this therapy on their own.

Not exactly the best in-depth reporting of what might be a medical breakthrough (that word has lost it's meaning in an age when Viagra is been described in the same terms), and let's face it; the doctor had approximately 5 minutes of airtime, tops, in which to get the story out. However, the seemingly lackadaisical attitde of the attending physician, and the "Thank You Lord, Jesus Christ, I can walk!" gushing of the patient led me to ask a question:

Is it just me or is there something wrong here?

Which lead to my next question:

Why are they reporting as a breakthrough something that most people would normally do anyway, which is take Tylenol (or aspirin) for joint pain?

Which sorta-kinda steered me to another question, which, coincidentally, is where I began:

"Why haven't 'they' found a cure for ______?"

The simple answer is: because no one wants to find a cure, that's why. There is simply too much money at stake involved in research, marketing and press releases. Finding a cure for "X" is probably the greatest job in the world; you don't need to show results, and every so often you can trot out a press release that indicates that something that already exists or which will soon be made available, does something with regards to the disease in question.

Have high cholesterol? Eat oatmeal. Or better yet, take this little pill that costs $20 a pop. No, we have no cure for high cholesterol, but we can control it, and we'll keep on controlling it until we find something else to get rich on. But in the meantime, give to the American Heart Association so that we can continue this "vital research".

Have diabetes? We know what causes it and while we can manipulate genes so that a sheep can give birth to a chimpanzee, we can't figure out how to do anything to you that might fix this problem. Here, take insulin two or three times a day and buy all the paraphrenalia associated with blood testing: meters, monitors, lancets, gauze, band-aids and syringes. And don't forget to pop your spare change into that tin can on every convenience store counter that allows us to continue our "quest for a cure".

I could go on and on, but I won't.

I understand that science and medicine don't operate in the same way as most other fields of endeavor which are results-oriented and that, for the most part, the human body and how it works is as big a mystery to us today as it was to Paracelsus or Avicenna back in the Stone Age (or whenever it was they lived). But I'm getting a little tired and a bit cynical about the seemingly-weekly announcements about "another milestone" being reached in the "diagnosis, prevention and treatment of canker sores" or somesuch, which after the fireworks display, proves to be nothing of the sort. It seems to be more in line of a tease that is offering people who are really ill, and desperate, some hope and simultaneously to get them to open their pocketbooks.

And there are worse diseases out there than Arthritis, Diabetes or Hypercholesterosis. Cancer, AIDS, Leukemia, and a host of others, that are just as painful, just as deadly, lurk out there too, and have probably had more money thrown at them than anything else, and no one comes close to anything resembling answers. Maybe those answers don't exist or they might be beyond our abilities to discover at the present, but it seems like it's more of a great way to ensure lifetime employment, and the supporting funds, without having to actually produce a result (unless a press release touting Tylenol counts as such).

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