The Konformist

October 2001

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Bad Medicine

Why Visiting Your Doctor May Be Hazardous to Your Health

by Mickey Z.


Science is always wrong; it never solves a problem without creating ten more.

&emdash; George Bernard Shaw


A story in the July 31, 2001 New York Post bore the screaming headline: CHILD IS KILLED IN HOSP MRI HORROR. A six-year-old boy named Michael Colombini, fresh off surgery for "a tumor on the brain," was having an MRI done at the Westchester Medical Center "when the machine's strong magnet sucked in a metal oxygen tank that sailed through the air and fractured his skull."

The facility claimed the metal tank had been accidentally "introduced into the exam room." Leonard Lucy, associate general counsel of the American College of Radiology, was the expert called for a quote by the Post. "There's no medical procedure that's risk-free," he offered. A relative of the dead boy added, "So many of us have had [MRIs] and you think it's perfectly safe."

There are 80 million gun owners in America and 1500 accidental gun deaths per year.

There are 700,000 doctors in the U.S. who cause 120,000 accidental deaths per year.

Statistically speaking, doctors are 9000 times more dangerous than gun owners.


America's Most Wanted

Botched surgeries, incorrect dosages, missed diagnoses&emdash;even when you take into account all gun-related deaths (30,708 in 1998), the AMA is still three times more lethal than the NRA. Of course, such numbers are disputed by groups with reason to do so. A 2001 study purported to show that medical mistake estimates are exaggerated, claiming that one of the reasons the examination of deadly errors is flawed is because patients often are extremely ill to begin with (they were gonna die anyway?). Still, before you trust any pro-medical industry study, you might want to contemplate another bit of research that exposed doctors as admitted liars. A University of Chicago Medical Center study found that in four out of 10 cases, doctors intentionally told patients they would live longer than expected.

"Although nearly everyone agrees that frank, open and honest communication between a doctor and his patient is optimal, on this one absolutely crucial issue, it remains very much the exception," said study co-author Dr. Nicholas Christakis, professor of medicine and sociology at the University of Chicago. "As a consequence, two out of three patients may have to make important medical and personal decisions based on missing or unreliable information."

The trouble is, it doesn't really matter what all these studies allegedly demonstrate. Mistakes are inevitable. A mechanic will screw up your car and lie about it. Your teachers will go through the motions and lie to themselves. A writer will publish a terrible book and blame the editor. What makes doctors different is that stakes are usually higher. But perhaps more importantly, even when they get it "right" and they tell the "truth," they're no less dangerous than the doctors who make mistakes and/or lie. Whether it's human error or misguided science, Western medicine is&emdash;directly or indirectly&emdash;the number one killer in America.


"The late twentieth century will go down in history, I'm sure, as an era of pharmaceutical buffoonery."

&emdash;Kurt Vonnegut


Health and the Single Payer

In order to get a small taste of what the U.S. medical/scientific establishment is responsible for, let's imagine that little Michael Colombini didn't die in that MRI tube. Instead, let's embark with him on a hypothetical journey through America's for-profit health care maze. The first problem, of course, is just that: it's for-profit. The primary reason for this being that we've been sufficiently conditioned to accept the tenet that a single-payer health care system is "socialized medicine." Single-payer is a Canadian-style plan of national health insurance that guarantees universal and uniform health care to all. Socialized medicine, by definition, means health care practitioners are paid by the state. In the Canadian system, the government is the "single-payer," but 95 percent of doctors are private and bill on a fee-for-service basis. Also, whenever someone brings up that other knee-jerk single-payer complaint&emdash;government rationing&emdash;I point him in the direction of the Milliman and Robertson guidelines. Designed to "cut waste," these guidelines have been used by major corporations like General Electric to help choose their employee health plans and a sampling is hardly an advertisement for free access: You can't have a cataract removed in more than one eye unless you are fairly young and need both eyes for work. You can't stay in the hospital more than one day after a normal delivery, or two days after a Cesarean. You can't stay in the hospital for more than three days for most strokes, even if you can't walk out. You can't have a heart bypass unless you have chest pain, reduced heart-pumping, and a narrowing of all three major blood vessels, or a narrowing of two major vessels and recurrent chest pain after the strongest drugs have failed.

Another common fear about single-payer is higher taxes, but any tax increase would be approximately equal to the taxpayer's average insurance premium now. Plus, huge amounts of money are saved because a national health program requires no advertising and assumes no profits. In addition, no-fault compensation would end expensive malpractice litigation.

Single-payer is frequently labeled "big government" by its critics, but Canada spends only 3 percent of its health care expenditures on administrative costs while the free market U. S. system consumes 15 percent. Even the U. S. Congressional Budget Office has estimated that single-payer would save $100 billion a year in administrative costs while providing universal health care.

One of the reasons the truth about single-payer remains obscured is the role of corporate media. An item in the September/October 1994 issue of Extra (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) effectively illustrates how the media downplayed the single-payer option during the most recent national health care debate:

On ABC's Nightline, from July 1993 until the November 1994 election, there were only two mentions of the Canadian single-payer health care system: On a March 1994 show, an insurance representative made dire, unsupported predictions that with single-payer "there will definitely be limitations on your selection options in your future." On a September 1993 broadcast that featured an interview with Bill Clinton, Ted Koppel pressed the president about "frenzied" Canadians swarming over the border for U.S. health care. Canadians, Koppel told Clinton, were saying, "Whatever you do, don't exchange what you've got for what we've got." According to a Gallup poll taken only a few days earlier, just 2 percent of Canadians believed that the U.S. health care system was better than their own.


A Shot in the Dark

Having ignored and obscured the palpable benefits of universal health care, the U.S. system then plays the prevention card. This has nothing to do with adopting a healthier lifestyle. It's all about drugs and high-tech intervention. For example, even if six-year-old Michael Colombini is not "sick," he'll be coerced into getting a shot to help him stay that way. Even though he has a functioning immune system, he'll be pressured into getting a so-called vaccine that may contain any of the following: formaldehyde, mercury, aluminum, cells from sickened animals (calf lymph, monkey kidney, chick embryo), and genetically-altered materials. The impact is difficult to quantify.

"There are about 12,000 reports made to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System every year," explains Barbara Loe Fisher, president and co-founder of the National Vaccine Information Center. "If the number 12,000 only represents 10 percent of what is occurring, then the real number may be 120,000 vaccine adverse events. If 12,000 reports represents only one percent of the actual total, then the real number may be 1.2 million vaccine adverse events annually."

"'Immunity' is a grand medical delusion," writes vaccination activist, Sharon Kimmelman. "Immune function, though, like all other body processes, responds to and is the direct result of changing beneficial and detrimental health practices and factors. There is no magic pill or potion which will lock us into a state of 'protection' in spite of our actions. We are biologically accountable for our behavior. Technology cannot trick it without serious repercussions."

"The more the reality of vaccine reactions, injuries and deaths is denied and minimized," Fisher adds, "the more distrustful the people will become."


Just Say No

Not surprisingly, even after our boy gets his shot, he'll get sick anyway. That's when the man in the white coat whips out his prescription pad and sends Michael's mother off the local pharmacy where she'll undoubtedly encounter a line since every day, 80 percent of Americans take a potentially addictive prescription drug. From 1962 to 1988, street drug addiction in America increased by 30 percent while prescription drug addiction increased by 300 percent. In most cases, these drugs are improperly tested and based on fraudulent science. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, of all the new drugs put on the market between 1976 and 1985, 52 percent had to be either pulled from the shelves or relabeled because they proved to be more hazardous than animal and limited human studies had indicated (more on that later).

Every prescription drug is worthy of its own book-length analysis, but for the purposes of this space, I'll focus briefly on the antibiotic myth. While antibiotics have brought about recognized benefits by killing germs without harming human tissue, just how vital they are is questionable. There is such a thing as "good" bacteria that help keep a healthy balance of flora within our bodies. Antibiotics, however, do not discriminate&emdash;they kill good and bad bugs and the result is often a recipe for disaster: certain strains of bacteria proliferate and the body can be overrun by toxins (i.e. yeast).

Another peril results from the irrational over-prescribing of antibiotics. In 1954, two million pounds of antibiotics were ingested. Today, that number has passed 50 million pounds. That's 133 million courses of antibiotics prescribed every year in non-hospital settings and 190 million doses administered per day in U.S. hospitals.

Bacteria can grow resistant to drugs and are capable of mutating into new, more powerful strains with the potential to overwhelm treatment. Bacteria evolve 500,000 times faster than humans. Add to this the fact that meat- and dairy-consumers ingest a relentless flow of sub-therapeutic levels of the antibiotics injected in livestock to promote growth and you have increased the possibility of drug-resistant germs many times over.

Finally, there are a large number of people allergic to antibiotics, especially penicillin. The potentially fatal side effects are, in general, played down by the medical industry (one estimate shows 130,000 deaths per year due to the side effects of pharmaceuticals).

A related "wonder drug" myth concerns the commonly-held belief that antibiotics are responsible for a decline in diseases. However, basic sanitary measures are the true heroes. For example, the mortality rate for tuberculosis in the United Kingdom declined from 4000 per million in 1840 to 500 per million in 1940. The use of antibiotics did not become widespread in the late 1940s.

In rare cases, antibiotics can be useful, but as noted health expert Gary Null declares, "Never use an antibiotic unless absolutely necessary to save your life. Always demand an allergy test, and ask your doctor about the specific possible side effects."


Money Can't Buy You Health

Both the shot that failed and the drug that made things worse are based upon research that is usually funded by corporations. In their book, Trust Us, We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future, authors Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber discuss the vast amount of time that "a modern researcher spends writing grant proposals; coddling department heads; corporate donors, and government bureaucrats; or engaging in any of the other activities that are necessary to obtain research funding." The influence of this money on research can result in the suppression of certain studies while corporations commission writers to pen favorable articles in peer-reviewed journals. A study of the relationship of pharmaceutical industry funding and research conclusions about calcium-channel blockers was published in 1998 in the New England Journal of Medicine. After examining 70 articles on the drug, researchers found that 96 percent of the authors of favorable articles had financial ties to manufacturers of calcium-channel blockers. One year later, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Drummond Rennie, complained that the "influence of private funding on medical research has created 'a race to the ethical bottom.'"

Government agencies have also become bottom dwellers.

"Pharmaceutical companies are big campaign finance contributors having given $44 million over the last ten years," explains Dr. Ray Greek, president of Americans For Medical Advancement. "Food and Drug Administration scientists who approve drugs or decide upon regulations are also current, past or future employees of the drug industry. They are inextricably tied to the industry that they are supposed to be policing. What this means is that the FDA is effectively financed and staffed by the pharmaceutical industry. The agency 'works for' the industry, not for consumers, because consumers are not making campaign contributions; nor are they arbiters of job security."


Is There a Faulty Science Gene?

But even if research weren't privately funded, it would be doomed to failure since it typically relies on one or both of the following institutions:


Animal Experimentation

Let's contemplate some rudimentary facts, with a little guidance from the researchers at Wellness of Nature:

- Every species of animal has a very singular cellular makeup and structure. Therefore, the testing of one species cannot lead to serviceable conclusions about another: "The fact is that animals react differently to different chemical substances, not only from human beings, but also from each other. Aspirin kills cats and penicillin kills guinea pigs. Yet, the same guinea pigs can safely eat strychnine&emdash;one of the deadliest poisons for humans but not for monkeys. Sheep can swallow enormous amounts of arsenic, once the murderers' favorite poison. Potassium cyanide, deadly to humans, is harmless to owls."

- "The truth is that animal experimentation has not cured a single human disease. The reason is simple: animal experimentation cannot produce any cures simply because it is based on a premise that is medically and scientifically false."

- "Animal research is not science and therefore it must be abolished. It is only through the use of truly scientific methods which are directly relevant to people (these include prevention and clinical studies of human patients) that we can hope to understand the causes of human diseases and find their cures."

- Even a cursory glance at the large number of pharmaceutical drugs pulled from the shelves by the Food and Drug Administration will offer a clue as to how ineffectual animal experimentation is. Ironically, it's the human who ends up as the "guinea pig."

- Universities, hospitals, the pharmaceutical and health care industries, politicians, lobbyists, private corporations, and celebrity dupes like Jerry Lewis and Christopher Reeve gain wealth and prestige thanks to animal experimentation.

- Animal experimentation is a scientific fraud but by shrewdly presenting the issue as one of choice&emdash;100 million animals per year must suffer and die to keep the world safe for Prozac, Ritalin, and Viagra&emdash;moral stances are effortlessly quashed by those seeking to justify the laboratory torture of animals. However, if it can be established that such experiments are not only morally vacant, but scientifically specious as well, the focus changes drastically.


Genetic Propaganda

"We are not the expression of our genes," declares Ruth Hubbard, professor emerita of biology at Harvard, "and knowing their location on the chromosomes, or their composition, does not enable someone to predict what we will look or be like." This simple reality is obscured by he almost-daily media reports on new gene findings. What follows naturally is the creation of predictive tests based upon these genetic discoveries. These tests are far more lucrative than any therapy that is only prescribed to someone who already "has" a condition. Predictive tests are for everyone&emdash;just like vaccinations. Yet another expensive medical procedure based upon flawed and corrupt science.

"It is a mistake to put too much weight on genes or DNA," Hubbard concludes. "Human beings are genetically a relatively homogeneous species. If Europeans were to disappear overnight, the genetic composition of the species would hardly change."

Yes, but our health care system may improve.


You Are What You Eat

The final leg of this curative journey, until the condition inevitably flares up again, begins when Michael Colombini feels a touch better. That's when his physician will dispense with dietary advice. And why not? Every 45 seconds, someone in the US has a heart attack. Every 55 seconds, an American dies from heart disease, a highly preventable illness and the nation's number one killer. Forty-five percent of all heart attacks occur in people under 65. Even more disturbing is the growing number of Americans (75,000 per year) under 40 who are now suffering heart attacks. Every seven seconds, an American is diagnosed with cancer, the number two killer. One out of three in the US will get cancer and one out of four will die from this highly preventable disease. Seventy-five percent of the carcinogens in our bodies come from eating animal products. Clearly, some nutritional counsel is in order.

What will Michael's doctor recommend? Almost without variation, he or she will push the tenets of the standard American diet, with all the deadly animal products, additives, chemicals, pesticides, and GMOs that go with it. Featured prominently will be the Food Guide Pyramid&emdash;complete with its carved-in-stone theology of 2-3 servings from the meat-poultry-fish-eggs group and 2-3 servings from the milk-yogurt-cheese group (make that 3-4 servings for children and pregnant women). Then again, what else should we expect when the typical American doctor sat through only four classroom hours of nutrition during medical school?

"The human body has absolutely no requirement for animal flesh," says Michael Klaper, M.D. "Nobody has ever been found face-down 20 yards from Burger King because they couldn't get their Whopper in time."


"Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died."

&emdash;Erma Bombeck


Everything is Broken

First, do no harm? Tell that to Michael Colombini. His story will undoubtedly provoke calls for new "safety measures" in the MRI room but what about the methodology that got him there in the first place? What of an environment where six-year-olds present with brain tumors? The minute sampling offered above is but the tip of an iceberg immense enough to sink ten Titanics. The documented information on each subject could fill a book and I didn't get to the mercury in your teeth, the fluoride in your water, the over-reliance on surgery, the two million "dis-labeled" people locked in nursing homes against their will, HMOs, GMOs, the "war" on cancer, and so much more. Still, I hope it's now clearer that the faults in the system lie much deeper than individual human error. Even the most well-meaning and diligent physician is often ill-equipped to offer legitimate help within the structure he or she was trained in. The entire corporate medical configuration is defective and corrupt, and thereby anti-health. Until American health care consumers move toward awareness, self-education, and direct action, visiting your doctor will continue to be hazardous to your health.


Portions of this article first appeared at


The following books and websites were primary sources for this article. They are all strongly recommended.


Web Sites




1. Andrews, Charles. Profit Fever: The Drive to Corporatize Health Care and How to Stop It (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1995)


2. Himmelstein, David U., M.D. and Woolhandler, Steffie, M.D., M.P.H. The National Health Program Book: A Source Guide for Advocates (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1994)


3. Hubbard, Ruth. Profitable Promises: Essays on Women, Science, and Health (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1995)


4. Lyman, Howard (with Glen Merzer). Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth From the Cattle Rancher Who Won't Eat Meat ( New York: Scribner,1998)


5. Mendelsohn, Robert S., M.D. How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor (New York: Ballantine Books: 1984)


6. Rampton, Sheldon and Stauber, John. Trust Us, We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future (New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 2001)


7. Robbins, John. Diet for a New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness, and the Future of Life on Earth (Walpole, NH: Stillpoint, 1987)


8. Reclaiming Our Health: Exploding the Medical Myth and Embracing the Source of True Healing (Tiburon, CA: HJ Kramer, 1996)



Mickey Z. can be reached at

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