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Rational Inquiry -Volume 6 Number 4

Magic Medicine

By Keith Taylor

Recently with my pal, Dr. Elie Shneour, in tow, I attended a presentation in Chula Vista touting a medical device that will fix almost everything. Elie is of course a SDARI plankowner and head of the San Diego County Science Advisory Board. We listened to a huckster tell folks how they could alleviate problems caused by some twenty-three maladies. The list started with asthma, ended with seizures, and included the usual diseases that go with old age. Between Elie and me we had several of them.

We septuagenarians have lots of problems young folks hardly know about, and we give up lots of things to keep them under control. When I hanker for a steak my doctor recommends chicken or even (gasp!) vegetables. Damn doctors think they know everything!

Not everybody agrees that they do, our speaker that night for example. He slipped in snide remarks aimed at standard medicine with "good old boy" humor and snippets from papers published by the likes of the Mayo Clinic. His presentation included testimonies by Dick Van Dyke and Dan Marino. He also told of how "millions" of others had been helped. All one had to do was lie on a mattress filled with magnets. And, lucky us, the mattresses were available for about a thousand bucks. They cost more than those in catalogs for fifty bucks because his contained neodymium and that was expensive, but it would last practically forever. Elie told me that ceramic magnets, equally long lasting, were available for a fraction of the cost. Shouldnít the mattresses be built with them?

While the gray haired folks were waiting to be fleeced with a pitch as old as that of snake oil salesmen, my mind wandered to thoughts of my eldest brother, Arden. He died last Thanksgiving, a pauper. He was the victim of other snake oil salesmen-crooked telemarketers. They also offered untold riches. All Arden had to do was send them just a bit more money for expenses. It never happened. Arden had reached in vain for the brass ring.

Unfortunately, the brass ring is reserved, not for folks like my brother, but for the parasites who pick on them. Acquiring old peopleís money is a way of life with some folks. It happened to my brother. It was happening again, right in front of my eyes in Chula Vista.

Clearly there were questions that needed answering. I wondered where the scientific proof was. Surely the overwhelming testimonies of movie stars, athletes and millions of others could be verified by scientists! Where were the double blind tests? I also wanted to ask for the entire text of the article by the Mayo Clinic, not for a few sentences that looked suspiciously like they were lifted out of context. Unfortunately the spielmaster wasnít "able" to take questions from the floor.

Along the way we heard that the medical establishment has failed Americans, or at least it ignored the alternative cures available. We are 37th in overall health and 24th in longevity. Would those numbers improve if we didnít rely on nostrums and unproven treatment? My scientist friend told me that Americans spend much more on so-called alternative medicine than we do on standard medicine.

Non sequiturs, each with an emotional impact, were tossed all over the place. We learned that traces of drugs having passed through our bodies are found in the ocean. I felt guilty for the medication I took for diabetes, or was the guilt for expelling it?

Once again we heard how Americans spend most of their savings on medical care during the last years of our lives. How much medical care could the thousand bucks spent on a silly magnetic mattress buy?

The irony is that scientific medicine keeps us alive long enough to spend huge fortunes to keep on living. Should we substitute quackery for the medicine that has doubled human life expectancies in the past hundred years? Iím running up the tab myself, but Iím not ready to call it quits. Every day brings new challenges. This day, for example, I had to listen to a man fleece old people out of money and I wanted to do something about it. I filed a complaint with the Chula Vista police, but it probably wonít matter. The man came close but walked that thin line between insinuating and lying.

Meanwhile he has grabbed the brass ring my brother reached for.


The author is the President of SDARI.

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