First, Do No Harm, Right?

The Hippocratic Oath has long been revered for it’s wisdom. It is my contention, knowing personally a few doctors, and having conversed with far too many, besides, that most doctors are in their profession to actually help people. Of course, we may ask ourselves how we could ever know this for sure. In certain circles today, the motives of medical doctors are being harshly questioned. People are fed up! I get it.

drawing by Mollie Walker Freeman

drawing by Mollie Walker Freeman

Studies and statistics, I have observed, can be used to “prove” almost any theory. However, lots of folks are suffering at the hands of the ones who are supposed to be helping. During my schooling to become certified as a health coach, I heard from a well-known medical doctor that iatrogenic death was the 3d leading cause of death in the United States, and causes many more deaths worldwide. I was not familiar with this term – how could it possibly be so common?

Iatrogenic simply means “resulting from medical treatment.” In 2000, a study was conducted by Dr. Barbara Starfield, a medical doctor with a Master’s degree in public health. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. For the study, the U.S. was compared with 12 other industrialized nations, and was found to rank last or nearly last in many important indicators. Perhaps the most disturbing of these were the findings around iatrogenic death, including 12,000 deaths a year from unnecessary surgeries and 106,000 from nonerror, adverse effects from medications. In all, about 225,000 deaths were due to iatrogenic causes. However, other sources think the number may be as high as 284,000. (See

drawing by Mollie Walker Freeman

drawing by Mollie Walker Freeman

In 2006, the Nutrition Institute of America ran an independent review of “government approved” medicine entitled,”Death by Medicine.” The group was made up of such well-known physicians and professors as Gary Null, Carolyn Dean, and Martin Feldman. As a result of their research, they believe that only as many as 5 – 20% of iatrogenic deaths are reported, partly due to fear of lawsuits, and partly because codes for reporting these deaths do not even exist. They say that the numbers may be many times higher. (See “Death By Medicine“)

I personally know a woman who had a breast removed due to “cancer,” only to learn that she never had cancer in the first place. I know a man who was admitted into the ER with his wife, a registered nurse, telling staff that he was suffering from a heart attack. However, they were told that he was not having a heart attack and to settle down. In the morning, the shocked cardiologist exclaimed, “This man’s in cardiac arrest!” – and had been all night long.

I have a client who was advised to have her gall bladder removed immediately. Due to insurance complications combined with a desire to try to treat without surgery, she postponed the surgery for a couple of months. A good thing, too, since 2 months later it was found that her gall bladder was perfectly healthy. She had a stomach ulcer.

We pretty much all know that our “health care” system needs help. That is not my point. The blame for our current state can be spread around, I think. Doctors are not perfect and do not have all the answers. Even when they may say that there is nothing further to be done, people often find ways to heal. (Check out this New York Times article “The Island Where People Forget To Die.) Why is that? I suspect that it is, in large part, a result of taking responsibility for one’s own health.

drawing by Mollie Walker Freeman

drawing by Mollie Walker Freeman

We may not be able to do it alone. We need support, help, information. It would be great if businesses, schools, industry, the government and others would take responsibility to do what they can to make our collective health a priority. And, despite accusations of greed and selfish motives, many do attempt to do so. But let’s think about it. No one can make you eat vegetables, sleep, drink water, or exercise. Most of the main factors that determine our health are controlled by ourselves.

And, even those monster-big scary organizations are made up of individual people. Sometimes, those people are affected by health challenges, and they also have to educate themselves and take responsibility for their own outcomes. Sometimes, those individuals end up participating in “bad” things while trying to do something good, like developing a drug to help people which ends up doing damage.

After some pretty bad experiences with doctors & hospitals during my formative years, I decided that it would be best for me and my children to stay out of the hospital and the doctor’s office as much as possible. We have taken care of ourselves as best we can, as much as it depends upon us, and with good results. After raising 5 children to adulthood, I can only recall 3 emergency room visits. Other than childbirths and my husband’s hernia surgery, we’ve avoided being hospitalized for 30 years. (And, I must say, by the grace of God!)

I have to note that when Scott went in for his hernia surgery, he received excellent care. I’m happy to know that doctors and hospitals are there if we need them in a true emergency.

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