Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion

Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion

Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion

Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion

Synopsis

One of the transformations facing health care in the twenty-first century is the safe, effective, and appropriate integration of conventional, or biomedical, care with complementary and alternative medical (CAM) therapies, such as acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy, herbal medicine, and spiritual healing. In Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion, Michael H. Cohen discusses the need for establishing rules and standards to facilitate appropriate integration of conventional and CAM therapies.

The kind of integrated health care many patients seek dwells in a borderland between the physical and the spiritual, between the quantifiable and the immeasurable, observes Cohen. But this kind of care fails to present clear rules for clinicians regarding which therapies to recommend, accept, or discourage, and how to discuss patient requests regarding inclusion of such therapies. Focusing on the social, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions of integrative care and grounding his analysis in the attendant legal, regulatory, and institutional changes, Cohen facilitates a multidisciplinary conversation about the shift to a more fluid, pluralistic health care environment.

Excerpt

At the First International Congress on Tibetan Medicine in Washington, D.C., the Dalai Lama reminded the audience that the first, international congress on Tibetan medicine was actually held in the seventh or eight century, not the twentieth. Furthermore, the congress was held in Tibet, not in the American capital, and finally, the historical conclave focused on the shared medical traditions of India, Nepal, China, Persia, and Tibet, traditions that already reflected an ethic of medical pluralism. The Dalai Lama went on to point out that even at that meeting—long before the notion of “complementary therapies” had become popular in the United StatesTibetan medical culture already represented an amalgamation of influences from other traditions, and it already manifested deep respect for international collaboration and shared research efforts.

With gentle humor, in his keynote address the Dalai Lama reflected on the hubris and ethnocentrism often described as embedded in modern scientific efforts within the Western Hemisphere to understand indigenous and other medical traditions. The medical stance implicitly critiqued by the Dalai Lama has been described by some critics as one of “co-optation” and assimilation, rather than true collaboration between camps. In other words, even when open to exploring other medical systems, clinicians and research scientists adhering too rigidly to the Western, scientific model—that is, without fully appreciating the asserted role of consciousness in medi-

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