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Ways of Health •Holistic Approaches to Ancient and Contemporary Medicine

7 Oct

On the Limitations of Modern Medicine



It has been suggested that the character of medical culture is largely determined by that of the wider culture of which it is a part and that the medical beliefs and behaviors of individuals are largely socially determined.  It would be wrong however to ignore the scope for voluntary activity.  For one thing, current developments do not always fulfill past expectations.  Thus strains are created, both in the sphere of practice and the sphere of theory.  The old ways of seeing the world are fractured and through the cracks the real world becomes more visible.  The scope of human freedom expands.  Within the wider sphere of productive life, as indeed within medicine, the most serious emerging strains derive from industrial man’s relation to the natural world.

It is clear that the increase in human numbers and the increase in material consumption per capita must reach limits in a finite world.  Currently each is increasing at around 2 percent per year with global levels of material production thus rising around 4 percent and doubling in less than 20 years.  Because of the momentum inherent in demographic growth and of the effect of rising global expectations in sustaining economic growth, some studies have suggested that the global “population-capital system” seems bound for “overshoot and collapse” before re-stabilising within the limits nature imposes on man*.  This is not a problem that will go away if it is ignored and an increasing awareness of it is likely to lead to a fundamental reassessment of the wider constraints on human action.  As ecology is central to health, it would be surprising if such a reassessment did not also involve re-examination of the assumptions underlying modern medicine.  In any case medicine contains its own particular expression of the wider crisis—diminishing returns and a self-defeating dependence on economic growth to solve the health problems associated with such growth.


* Meadows, D.H., D.L., Randers, J. and Behrens, W.W., The Limits to Growth (New York: NAL, 1972).  Also see Mesarovic, M., and Pestel, E. Mankind at the Turning Point (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1974).


Sobel, D. S., Ways of Health Holistic Approaches to Ancient and Contemporary Medicine (New York Harcourt Brace Jovanovich ©1979) P. 77.