Separating the wheat from the chaff

Recently, I’ve been accused of hypocrisy numerous times for refusing vaccination but accepting other forms of mainstream medical treatment. This strikes me as a little strange, but seems to be a repetitive theme amongst those who argue against personal choice in medicine and for the more patriarchal dogma that permeates much of Western healthcare. So, am I? Let’s examine.

Before I go on, I’d like to mention that it doesn’t actually bother me particularly whether or not people consider me hypocritical based on my choices when it comes to health. If that’s the view you take, then good for you – we’re all entitled to our opinions, and if somebody wants to form an opinion of me based on such minimal knowledge then that probably paints more of a picture of them than it does of me. But I know others who are accused of the same thing and who are bothered by it, so guys – this one’s for you.

To start with, we need to have an idea of what ‘western medicine’ actually entails. Some like to describe it solely as pharmaceutical medicine, which to a large extent it is, however this isn’t entirely fair on the many doctors out there who take a more holistic viewpoint and who will prescribe things more often associated with naturopathic medicine, such as exercise regimes and intense nutritional advice. To those doctors who do this, I salute you. Others will then claim that it is simply medicine based on ‘evidence’, and that if there is evidence to suggest something works then it is ‘medicine’ and that’s that.

What I find, however, is that when challenged with the many, many, many years of clinical evidence and trials suggesting the efficacy of herbal medicine and of therapies that they would generally describe as ‘woo’ or ‘alternative’ or ‘quackery’, the response is that the evidence isn’t strong and isn’t right and doesn’t work. So what is it, medicine? Or herbal medicine? Or alternative medicine? You can’t apply one standard to one thing and not to another, but that tends to be a trend.

Bear in mind, of course, I am making sweeping generalisations here, and I don’t meant to tar everybody with the same proverbial brush – this is based purely on those who’ve called those of us who choose one thing and not another ‘hypocrites’ and the ensuing conversations I’ve had with them over the years.

So let’s, for arguments’ sake, call ‘western medicine’ the form of ‘mainstream’ medicine that has evolved over the past century and a half, originated mostly from Europe and America, that revolves largely around diagnostic screening and the prescription of pharmaceutical medicines, and which is funded and subsidised by governments around the world, and especially in the western world.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s have a look at what we’re guaranteed under the New Zealand Bill of Rights. This act assures us of choice in our healthcare – no medicine can be forced upon a person against their wishes. Simple. Under New Zealand legislation (and again, general human decency and sovereignty!) we’re also assured of informed consent. No medical procedure should be performed without a person being aware of all the potential pros and cons. If I say ‘no’, or I don’t feel I have enough information to make an adequate decision, that isn’t informed consent. Nor is having a procedure performed under the guise of informed consent, where consent is given based on just one side of the story and the person feels informed, but in reality has had the other side of the coin hidden from them. For example, if a person is told a procedure is totally safe and will save their life, and they agree to it based on this thinking they’re making an informed decision, but in reality there are major risks and it may potentially kill them, that is NOT informed consent.

Basically, we have choices here in New Zealand. Lots and lots of choices. And the assurance of being informed of all potential risks and of all potential benefits – something that is, with vaccines anyway, paid mere lip service and not properly carried out by a large number of practitioners (who, to be fair, may not be aware of the risks themselves and therefor unable to impart such information to their patients. The onus is on them to read up and wise up and understand the implications, rather than regurgitating the one-sided nonsense they’re fed by the glossy brochures and in medical school).

Western Medicine also covers a wide range of arenas – from pharmaceuticals for coughs and colds and minor ailments, to full-blown pharmaceutical therapies for major illness, to trauma care, to diagnostic screening with ever-advancing technologies, to surgery, to myriad other areas I haven’t mentioned.

So please explain how exactly exercising my right to informed consent and to make my own decisions about what happens to my body and refusing one intervention, makes me a hypocrite for accepting other areas of Western Medicine. For example, trauma care in the case of a broken bone, or diagnostic screening if something appears to be awry and tests may be in order. Or even antibiotics in the case of a raging, life-threatening infection.

There is so much involved in mainstream medicine, that there is no way a person will accept everything when exercising true informed consent. Just because I choose to utilise herbal medicines to treat sickness, and to focus on nutrition rather than pharmaceutical medication, does not mean I’m not allowed to have an xray if there’s a suspected fracture (heaven forbid!). That’s not being hypocritical, it’s being a rational, reasonable person using logic and information to weigh up risks and benefits and make an informed decision around the path they feel is best for them. To blindly accept everything you’re told, or to take an all-or-nothing approach to such a broad and varied system of anything – let alone something as important as health – is ignorant and stupid.

A vaccine is not an antibiotic is not an x-ray is not a whatever else…

It’s also not, as some people seem to think (weirdly), judging others for their choices – my choices are my own. They’re guaranteed by law. What you choose is up to you, and has nothing to do with me or my own decisions. We’re all different, and such is the beauty of life. And of having a health system that assures so much flexibility and has an inherent respect for a person’s wisdom to choose – in theory, anyway.

Hypocritical? No.

Rational? Yes.