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Women, History and Medicine

Throughout the history of humanity the role of women has been to be the bearer of the medicine bowl, to know the uses of plants to care for the family and the tribe. In the course of human history, for thousands of years, this was women’s role until fairly recently in the West. The Inquisition in Europe was a movement to wrest from women, the traditional headers, the right to provide medicants and care for the people. The Vatican sought to keep the position of healer/physician solely for the church’s hierarchy. Over 100,000 women were murdered in Europe, most accused of being witches due to their herbal knowledge between the 13th and 17th centuries. FN Before women’s traditional culture had recovered from this onslaught, the age of empiricism, the scientific revolution, was upon us, and in the West woman has yet to resume her role as nurturer and healer in society.

Status of Health Care in America

In the past sixty some years health care in the United States has been so distanced from each of us, so removed from our own hands, that self-care is referred to as “self-medication” by members and supporters of the dominant medical establishment, American Medical Association. Recounting a few of the reasons that Americans are turning away from the medical establishment, a spokesman for the Center for Science in the Public Interest wrote recently in a policy newsletter, “Many Americans thus want to take control of their own health and engage in self-medication.”

It was during my mother’s visit after the birth of my first child—in a hospital birthing room in 1982—that I began to understand the overwhelming power that we as individuals and as a society have surrendered to members of the medical establishment. Mom told me that when she had given birth 30 years earlier, her obstetrician had strapped her to the bed flat on her back! Could there be a more unnatural position for giving birth? And you permitted this, Mom? I felt my blood pressure rise just listening to her story. Her questions and wishes had not been heard.

Now members of Mom’s generation commonly start out the day with a handful of prescription drugs for their various aches and pains. The pills so upset the stomach that they chase the handful with yet another pill for stomach pain. Since the end of the 90s television advertising for pharmaceutical drugs is aimed directly at the consumer, and we are given the impression that drugs are the routine and expected course for treating ailments as simple and common as indigestion and headache. The aging population and television ad campaigns are two factors contributing to continually rising drug sales. In year 2000, for the first time in seven years drug sales rate (14.5% increase) was lower than the previous year; in 1999 prescription drug spending increased 18.4%.

But a study in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1999 (?) reported that four out of ten visits to health care practitioners are NOT to members of the AMA but for what is now being called complementary and alternative (CAM) health care. The alternatives to treatment with pharmaceutical drugs is what is being sought. Gentler, safer means of achieving and maintaining health that do no harm and enable the individual to take responsibility for and care for her own body is what is being sought. (Use chart)

Perhaps the greatest loss in this bankrupt healthcare system is the loss of a sense of physical, and therefore spiritual, self. When we grow up with full reliance on the opinion/diagnosis of a physician after a 15-minute meeting, our self-confidence, ability, even conceptual capacity to listen to and attend to our own bodies is stunted. We pay far more attention to our auto engines than our own inner workings. If we hear a new noise in the auto, we check it out promptly. Yet if you have a jolt of pain or a new ache, how likely are you to pay immediate attention? Not very likely, unless you have known chronic illness and know your body well.

The majority of individuals practicing natural medicine today either grew up with parents who for philosophical reasons engaged in medical self-care or they have experienced chronic diseases for which there are no drugs to prescribe. Those with chronic illnesses, if they have the will to survive and to thrive, go outside America’s medical establishment and find healthcare from other cultures. Healthcare practiced in other cultures is often simpler, much less expensive, and without harmful side effects. Most importantly, the individual learns to pay attention to and care for her own body. This process of self-care also leads to the tending to the spirit, which is a natural development from and also a requirement of self-care.

American Healthcare Statistics

  • Americans without health insurance—39% and rising
  • Health insurance is US companies’ second largest expense—and employers are reducing or eliminating health benefits
  • Physicians’ errors are the third leading cause of death in the US annually—100,000 deaths annually due to unnecessary surgery, medication errors, negative effects of drugs; this figure does not include disabilities or recoveries from these errors
  • US heath care system is the most expensive in the world, yet quality of health in the US rates poorly. A WHO study of 25 industrialized nations ranked the US 15th.