HOME

HUMOUR

HEALTH

ARCHIVE

E-MAIL

IATROGENESIS AND MISDIAGNOSES

By John J. Moelaert

"The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease." VOLTAIRE

         
Some of the severest critics of modern medicine are often doctors themselves. The practice of medicine is a tightly controlled profession with almost no room for innovative ideas and lots of disdain--if not outright persecution--for those who dare stray off the conventional path. Any doctor who steps out of line faces the risk of having his license suspended by the medical agency thus empowered. When Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski developed a chemical extracted from human urine and demonstrated its anti-cancer properties in the seventies and eighties he was at first praised for his work by the medical community.
However, once the Cancer Establishment realized the negative economic impact his effective but inexpensive treatment would have on the profits of the pharmaceutical industry, his lab was shut down, some 200,000 documents were seized and he was put out of business. Merely criticizing conventional medicine can result in a doctor losing her license to practise medicine as Dr. Guylaine Lanctot of Quebec found out after her book The Medical Mafia was published in 1995.
Such extreme repercussions keep most doctors from speaking out against the Medical Establishment. I found this out personally while doing research for my book The Cancer Conspiracy which was first published in June 1999 and is now in its fifth printing (Click the CANCER link on this page). I am privileged to have several progressive physicians among my friends. Four of them helped me in my research: a family physician, a radiologist, a neurologist and an oncologist. Each one made me promise not to mention his name in my book or in any subsequent talks or interviews. Clearly doctors have very little freedom of expression.
Conventional medicine has produced medical miracles such as organ transplants and dismal failures such as thalidomide. In some major areas such as cancer, treatment overall more often fails than succeeds. In fact, in Canada and the US just over 60 per cent of those who get cancer (not counting skin cancer) die of it. Worse, treatment often hastens rather than prevents death. For example, studies have shown that lung cancer patients who undergo radiation therapy have a 20 per cent higher mortality rate than non-radiated ones (Lancet, Summer '98).
Nor do physicians always practise what they preach. A McGill University study showed that most Ontario doctors who prescribe chemotherapy for terminal lung cancer patients said they'd refuse such treatment for themselves or members of their family if they had lung cancer.
It is often overlooked that the ultimate decision for any medical treatment is not up to the physician, but should be decided by the patient. Doctors have the legal and ethical obligation to inform their patients of all the risks and benefits of any medical procedure so that patients can make informed decisions. (See Informed Consent in ARCHIVE ).
Medicine is not an exact science like mathematics. It is important to realize that no doctor can heal a patient: only the body can do that. Doctors can only help or hinder that process. There is an inordinate degree of guesswork involved in the diagnosis and treatment of disease and as a result countless mistakes--some fatal--are made as the following demonstrates:


"Over a million patients are injured in US hospitals each year, and approximately 280,000 die annually as a result of these injuries. Therefore, the iatrogenic (doctor-caused) death rate dwarfs the annual automobile accident mortality rate of 45,000 and accounts for more deaths than all other accidents combined." (Journal of the American Medical Association, July 5, 1995, 274:29-34). Put more graphically, the iatrogenic death rate is equal to about three loaded jumbo jets crashing and killing everyone aboard every two days!
As Dr. Bernie Siegel (Author of Love, Medicine and Miracles) has said: "When you're ill, the most dangerous place to go to is a hospital." For example, every year some two million people get infections in US hospitals and some 15,000 of them die as a result. Many others end up in hospital as a result of incorrect prescriptions. (For Canadian figures divide the US figures by ten to get an approximate estimate).
Things are not much better in Australia. According to the Australian Department of Health eight per cent of hospital patients are injured or die due to doctor or hospital errors. A study conducted jointly by the Adelaide and Newcastle universities examined admissions at 28 South Australian and New South Wales hospitals. The study found that the medical profession is the third leading cause of death in Australia as it is in the US. The study found that half the hospital errors occurred during surgery, another 13 per cent were due to errors in diagnosis and 15 per cent were the result of inadequate training, supervision or communication. According to the study hospital patients 60 and older are at greatest risk.
Misdiagnosis is far more common than is generally realized. For example, mammography produces between 15 and 20 per cent false negatives. Patients are often first misdiagnosed and then treated for and cured of a disease they never had in the first place. Sometimes patients are diagnosed to have one disease, while autopsy results later show they died of another. Most medical mistakes are never revealed to patients. Doctors are masters at covering their mistakes and each other. A friend of mine who practises pediatrics in California told me about an experience he had as a medical student which very graphically illustrates the medical sleight of hand doctors sometimes perform. This is his story:

"We were standing on the mezzanine floor of an operating theatre, looking down on the surgical team below through slanted plate glass windows. Absolute silence was expected and observed. After the patient was prepped for the removal of a diseased kidney, the surgeon was about to make the incision when one of the students startled everyone by shouting 'wrong kidney!'"
"We just froze," my friend said. "You weren't even supposed to whisper, let alone shout. But the surgeon calmly looked up, then checked the x-rays. After the other side of the patient had been prepped, he removed the diseased kidney and that was that. Not a word of reprimand to the student who had sounded the alarm."
"What if no one had said anything and the surgeon had made the wrong incision?" I asked.
"The surgeon would have recognized his mistake as soon as he would have seen the healthy kidney. He would then have removed the diseased one."
"Yes," I protested, "but the patient would have awakened with two incisions. How could the surgeon possibly have explained that away?"
"Oh, that's easy," said my friend. "He would have said after he had removed the diseased kidney he thought that since the patient was under anesthesia anyway, this would be a good time to check the other one, just to make sure it was in good shape. The patient would never have known the difference and probably have thanked the surgeon for his thoroughness!"

Sometimes medical mistakes are too big to be covered up. Here are two well-documented cases of two Canadian women who were misdiagnosed:

1. Valerie Sahar, 50, was told in 1999 by her doctor that a biopsy had shown she had breast cancer. It was decided to have the breast removed as well as a portion of her underarm tissue to be followed by radiation and chemotherapy. She headed for the examining room so the doctor could check her other breast. Ten minutes later her doctor said she didn't have cancer at all and that her test results had been mixed up with those of another patient. What if this mix-up had not been noticed? The woman would have lost one breast--possibly two--and would have been subjected to radiation and chemotherapy. If she would have survived that she would have been told she was cured of the cancer she never had! (Times-Colonist- Front Page Sept. 10, 1999).

2. This case is even scarier: Sheila Roy, 36, lost her marriage and two years of her life as a result of misdiagnosis and unwarranted medical intervention. In 1997 she was diagnosed as having pancreatic cancer and was given one year to live. She underwent aggressive treatment that included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Along the way her husband left her. She received 40 days of radiation and was given high doses of the chemotherapy drug 5FU (Sometimes referred to by doctors as 5 feet under since patients often die of the "side-effects" of this highly toxic drug). Two years after the initial diagnosis it was discovered that the pathologist had made a mistake in interpreting test results. Medical authorities admitted the young woman never had cancer. It is now hoped she will not develop cancer as a result of the radiation and chemotherapy she was needlessly and carelessly subjected to. (Times Colonist- Front Page Sept. 15, 1999)

Note the proximity of the dates. Both women live on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

There are countless cases like these, but very few are ever revealed to the public. In Canada's entire medical history only one doctor has ever been convicted of criminal negligence. The doctor involved was an anesthesiologist who during an operation walked away from the patient to make a phone call. When he came back, the patient was in shock and later died. It was one of those rare cases that was too big to cover up.

The overall efficacy of modern medicine is alarmingly low and health costs could be reduced to a fraction of present levels if people would heed this statement:

"About 90% of patients who visit doctors have conditions that will either improve on their own or are out of reach of modern medicine's ability to solve." (New England Journal of Medicine, Feb. 7, 1991).

That leaves about ten per cent where doctors can be effective. E.g. hip relacements to restore mobility, laser technology to improve eyesight and setting broken bones to facilitate proper healing. The biggest single 'benefit' of a visit to a doctor is the emotional comfort it provides to a patient, i.e. hope that a prescribed treatment will solve a particular medical problem. (Click NUGGETS on this page and read: Placebo: The Miracle Drug by Dr. Andrew Saul).

In other words in most cases the end result of an illness will be the same with or without medical intervention. This raises a critical question: do most patients get better because of medical treatment or in spite of it? It is ironic that the most effective protection against disease is the least practised method: PREVENTION!  Why? Because treatment and diagnosis is a multi-billion dollar industry, while prevention is difficult, if not impossible, to prove and therefore difficult, if not impossible, to cash in on....

HOME