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Medical Misgivings

I was saddened to see the lack of balance in your article "Eyeing Alternative Medicine" [August 1992]. Not one practitioner of the three alternative medicines you investigated was given the chance to answer criticisms nor was there an admission that "orthodox medicine" also made mistakes.

Science-based medicine is limited by the breadth and depth of vision of those who practise and research it. For instance, acupuncture and acupressure were for many years pronounced humbug by the omniscient Western medical hierarchy. More recently, however, Western researchers have found evidence that the basic tenet of much Eastern medical wisdom does in fact have a sound scientific basis. This age-old "alternative medicine" practice is now commonly embraced by doctors and physiotherapists.

Turning to the theme of omniscience assumed on behalf of "orthodox medicine", I would like to differ. In my experience, Western orthodox medicine has made far more serious -- fatal and/or crippling -- mistakes through misdiagnosis, wrong treatments and refusal to acknowledge the existence of injuries that they cannot see.

Without doubt, there will always be "quacks" who bring their various alternative medicines into disrepute. The same could be said various medicos whose mistakes, abuse, ignorance and misdiagnoses have caused much pain and suffering to their patients. Are they to be pardoned because they have science on their side?

In recent years, greater dissemination of medical knowledge and greater knowledge of medical mistakes have helped bring Western medicine down from its false pedestal. Many doctors of broad vision are accepting and acknowledging that Western medical science does not have all the answers nor even know all the questions. They are seeing that alternative medicines can be complementary to their own practices. Surely we should not be suggesting that Western science return to the false and narrow parameters of scientific certainty -- parameters which it cannot satisfy?

Cath Gilmour, Christchurch

Of the three people quoted in the article, two were alternative practitioners. The article looked at scientific support for and research into alternative practices. In this context, discussions of the shortcomings of orthodox medicine would have been inappropriate.