Is Medicine Overrated?


For years I have ranted about drugs, especially in terms of intellectual contamination and cancer. But my lawsuits are moderate compared to Jacob Stegenga, a philosopher of technological know-how at the University of Cambridge.

In Medical Nihilism, published by Oxford University Press, Stegenga gives a devastating critique of medicine. Most treatments, he argues, do no longer paintings thoroughly, and lots of doing greater harm than true. Therefore we have to “have little confidence in medical interventions” and hotel to them a whole lot extra sparingly. This is what Stegenga approach via medical nihilism. I learned approximately Medical Nihilism from economist Russ Roberts, who later interviewed Stegenga at the popular podcast EconTalk.

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Skepticism closer to remedy, now and then referred to as “healing nihilism,” turned into once significant, even amongst physicians, Stegenga notes. In 1860 Oliver Wendell Holmes, dean of Harvard Medical School, wrote that “if the whole materia medica, as now used, will be sunk to the lowest of the sea, it might be all of the better for humankind—and all the worse for the fishes. Such cynicism diminished with the arrival of anesthesia, antiseptic surgical.

Techniques, vaccines, and potent treatments, drastically antibiotics for infectious disease and insulin for diabetes. Stegenga calls those latter two “magic bullets,” a phrase coined via health practitioner/chemist Paul Ehrlich to explain remedies that focus on the purpose of disease without disrupting the frame’s healthy functions.

Researchers have labored mightily to discover greater magic bullets, but they continue to be uncommon. For example, imatinib, emblem name Gleevec, is “a specifically powerful treatment” for one type of leukemia, Stegenga says. But Gleevec has “severe detrimental effects, along with nausea, complications, extreme cardiac failure and not on time increase in children. Most other kinds of cancer, as well as a coronary heart ailment.

Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, schizophrenia, and bipolar sickness lack therapies or dependable treatments. Many “broadly fed on” medications are “slightly effective and feature many dangerous facet effects,” Stegenga writes. Examples consist of pills for excessive cholesterol, high blood pressure, type- diabetes, and melancholy.

Stegenga warns readers no longer to prevent taking prescribed medicines without medical supervision because abrupt cessation may be volatile. But our health will enhance, and our costs reduce, Stegenga contends, if we motel to treatments a lot much less frequently. As Hippocrates as soon stated, “to do nothing is also a terrific treatment.

Anticipating objections to this thesis, Stegenga emphasizes that he isn’t always anti-technological know-how or anti-medicine. Quite the opposite. He aims to enhance medicinal drugs, aligning them with what rigorous studies simply well-known shows about the professionals and cons of remedies. His thesis has to hearten now not advocates of “opportunity” medication, which has even less empirical standing than the mainstream. He writes:

There isn’t any area I might rather be after an extreme twist of fate than in an intensive care unit. For a headache, aspirin; for many infections, antibiotics; for a few diabetics, insulin—there are a handful of truly high-quality medical interventions.

Many were observed between seventy and 90 years ago. However, by using maximum measures of medical consumption—a wide variety of patients, the number of dollars, number of prescriptions—the most normally employed interventions, especially those introduced in current decades, offer compelling warrant for scientific nihilism.