Health News Digest
medical establishment

October 13, 2014

Doctors Versus The Medical Establishment

By Michael D. Shaw

While there has always been a scientific establishment—and within that a medical establishment—it is only quite recently that the notion of “scientific consensus” has been advanced to prove the verity of a particular theory. Indeed, precisely because disruptive breakthroughs occur in science with some frequency, the establishment was always reluctant to equate consensus with truth. Rather, consensus was used to bully rebels into submission to the status quo. In fact, equating consensus with truth is a classic example of reversing cause and effect.

Bearing this in mind, we present a few medical rebels—some of whom paid a dear price for their radical ideas.

A logical place to start is with Andreas Vesalius, founder of the modern science of anatomy. This discipline, as it stood before Vesalius, was still dominated by the erroneous theories of Greek physician Galen, and was trammeled by the Church’s opposition to human dissection. Vesalius’ 1543 masterwork—De humani corporis fabrica libri septem [The Seven Books on the Structure of the Human Body] did nothing less than jump-start what authorities term the “humanistic revival of ancient learning.” In addition, he single-handedly introduced human dissection into medical curricula, and inspired the growth of a European anatomical literature.

Taking on Galen, whose theories were based entirely on dissection of dogs, monkeys, and pigs—not to mention going against the Church—earned him some powerful enemies. Among other things, he was called a “body snatcher”; was accused of murder, supposedly for the dissection of a Spanish nobleman, who was alive at the time; and was branded an atheist. Being a favorite of the Spanish court, Vesalius’ light sentence was a pilgrimage of penitence to the Holy Land. However, he took ill on the return voyage and died on the Greek island of Zacynthus. Galen karma?

Presumably, it was Vesalius who discovered that men and women have the same number of ribs.

Named by some as the greatest medical breakthrough of all time, is the discovery by William Harvey (1628) that blood flows rapidly around the human body, being pumped through a single system of arteries and veins. The prevailing hypothesis in those days involved two separate blood systems, which would later be correctly identified as oxygenated and deoxygenated blood. Although his theory was opposed by a handful of medical conservatives, it soon became universally accepted.

Before there was germ theory, there was Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis. In the 1840s, Semmelweis worked in the obstetrical clinic of Vienna General Hospital. Here he observed the appallingly high mortality rate of women giving birth, due to Puerperal fever—a kind of septicemia originating from infection of female reproductive organs. The revealed wisdom of the time was that the condition could not be prevented. As such, many women preferred to give birth outside the hospital, and were often better served because of it.

In 1847, a friend of his died from an infection following a knife wound suffered during an autopsy. The friend’s symptoms mirrored Puerperal fever. Doing some clever medical detective work, Semmelweis concluded that the hands of doctors and medical students were contaminated with some sort of infectious particles, and they were carrying them from the autopsy suite to the obstetrical clinic. Semmelweis made all concerned wash their hands with a solution of chlorinated lime between autopsy work and the examination of obstetrical patients.

You want outcomes? In April, 1847 the mortality rate was 18.3 percent. Hand-washing was instituted mid-May, the rates in June were 2.2 percent, July 1.2 percent, and in August 1.9 percent. So, the problem of Puerperal fever was solved, right? Wrong.

You see, Semmelweis could not proffer germ theory as the explanation for his findings, since…that would not be discovered and proven for another 20 years. Even though his outcomes were fantastic, his findings were deemed “non-scientific,” and the eminent scientists of the day, including Rudolf Virchow, mocked and ignored him. Thousands more childbearing women would die, until Lister and Pasteur finally turned the establishment.

Semmelweis—scorned and defeated—died tragically of a similar infection, when confined to a mental institution for a severe breakdown. Prior to his institutionalization, he contracted it while performing an operation.

These days, the medical establishment is often indistinguishable from Big Pharma. Nonetheless, there is a growing chorus against statins and the lipid/cholesterol theory of coronary heart disease, led by Drs. Malcolm Kendrick, Ernest Curtis, Stephen Sinatra, Paul Rosch, and Duane Graveline.

A relatively new contrarian is Dr. Michael Fenster, of Florida. For openers, Dr. Mike is an interventional cardiologist, who is also a professional chef, fitness guru, and marital artist. He calls his approach to food and health the Grassroots Gourmet™. Dr. Mike’s first book came out in June, 2012 and is entitled Eating Well, Living Better: The Grassroots Gourmet Guide to Good Health and Great Food. Watch for The Fallacy of The Calorie: Why The Modern Western Diet is Killing Us and How to Stop It—arriving this December.

My favorite quote from Dr. Mike: “Eating healthfully should not require exclusion, deprivation, and a joyless existence. And in fact, it doesn’t.” Cool, and just in time for the holidays.