Why Our Health Matters

A Vision of Medicine that Can Transform Our Future

by Dr. Michael B. Finkelstein, M.D., F.A.C.P., A.B.H.M.
posted on September 02nd 2010

In a world fascinated by talking head pundits who more often resemble vain celebrities than journalists, Dr. Andrew Weil remains a voice of sound reason and judgment. His ability to discern the issues, while at the same time maintaining his own personal integrity, is rare. In his latest work, Why Our Health Matters, he articulates the argument that an entirely new health care system is in order. In stark contrast to what we hear from Washington, including in the President’s recent address to Congress on the subject, Dr. Weil is not an advocate of fixing the current system, but transforming it and adopting a new paradigm. 

This may not at first be a popular idea. Even the president, in his address, acknowledged that people are anxious when they think their current coverage (what works) will be thrown out. The problem is, and Dr. Weil addresses this directly, that very little works with the current system even though people may believe otherwise. Over and over again, Dr. Weil examines the misinformation and unfortunate naïveté that contributes to such an opinion. 

To put it in perspective, Dr. Weil, with his impeccable credentials, justifiably underscores the remarkable achievements of modern medicine − technology, advanced procedures, and drugs that save lives. As such, he reaffirms the place for the application of the intensive care occasionally required. Without that, one might consider his ideas to be purely heretical and anti−establishment. Indeed, they are not. As we read the book, we realize that Dr. Weil is deeply concerned with the welfare of the individuals of this nation and the world. What he has to offer, however, is medical experience and a broad understanding of the nature of health and what it takes to achieve and maintain it. By contrast, individuals rooted in the “rigid orthodoxy” of modern medicine or politicians and social leaders compromised by their self−serving agendas are not to be trusted. Dr. Weil’s work is not dictated by any such agenda. His words are frank and to the point. He does not mince words and does not fear political, medical, or social reprisals. In fact, it is clear that he wishes to stimulate debate, if not action. The central tenet of the book is that health must be understood in a different context from the “disease oriented model” currently in place. As he suggests, “health is not merely the absence of disease,” and health is not simply defined by physical measurement. In addition the infatuation with technology to rescue the infirmed from the brink of disaster is wildly over utilized, applied to nearly every condition, including minor ones that are self limited. Without the appreciation of the “body’s ability to heal itself,” individuals remain under the impression that they need this technology whenever they have a twitch or ache. This might sound like an exaggeration, but Dr. Weil uses sound research and statistics to support this argument. In fact, after a while, I found the numbers to be overwhelming, almost irritating. I think Dr. Weil felt that readers needed to be inundated with numbers in order to snap out of the trance that keeps them blind to the obvious. For way too long, we have been misinformed and misled. 

I appreciated Dr. Weil’s inclusion, in fact, persistence, in exploring the background and philosophy of Integrative Medicine, and in particular, how, as a model, it addresses many of the issues that are raised. Very often I read books that have many unanswered questions. Why Our Health Matters, is not one of those. It is clear and concise. 

I would like to say that I think Dr. Weil is too modest when it comes to his grasp of healthcare policy and his qualifications to be tapped to lead this movement in the political arena. He was clear to point out that our politicians are “incapable...devoid of vision and unwilling to disengage from the vested interests.” Indeed, those institutions need someone from the outside to provide a voice like his that will lead to better questions, e.g. those raised in this book; and then have the integrity and fortitude to face up to the special interest groups that hold back progress. I think Dr. Weil would be an excellent candidate to head up his proposed NIH Institute of Health and Healing or a candidate for Surgeon General. 

Lastly, the personal stories and vast experiences that are related in the book bring the author into light in an important way. He has spent a career and a life immersed in a passionate pursuit of the ideal to help others and go beyond normal and conventional expectations in order to achieve that. This is clearly evident when you hear him speak or read his words. This book is a wonderful reflection of the man and his work, bringing the issues to the forefront now when the debate is at its peak. There could not have been a better time for its appearance. Echoing Dr. Weil’s optimistic sentiments, he believes that real change is possible and that the “transformation will be one of our greatest achievements.” We should all join him in making that happen, but first we must truly understand the issues. Why Our Health Matters is essential to that understanding.

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