The Aim of Health Care

Healthcare, along with theology and spirituality, has been part of my mindset. The past 2 weeks, i’ve been wanting to simplify the recent ruckus in America on the recently issued revised guidelines on mammogram by the US Preventive Services Task Force of the Department of Health and Human Services. Essentially, the new guidelines discard the current prevalent practice of mammogram for women aged 40-50 because the harms outweigh the benefits.

This issue however is too complicated and raw to dissect, replete with political and medical overtones now being stalled for a Senate hearing for the gritty arguments from both the anti and the pro guidelines. While it remains a little premature to welcome the new guidelines uncritically, its impact for healthcare and the strong strides in breast cancer prevention will certainly be global. I’m keeping my watch…

Meanwhile, i found one wonderful quote on healthcare from one of the leading bioethicists in the United States – Daniel Callahan, author of 41 books and scholar and lecturer at Yale and Harvard Medical Schools. I once attended a lecture he gave on spirituality and bioethics at Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas. Dr. Callahan is a rapid speaker, probably most of the time, tries to catch up with the speed of his mind. But one prominent thing i sensed from him – he seems to be aging through laughter and increasing social engagement as a scholar. Here’s the quote:

“The aim of health care should be, within a finite life span, to help us to have a good chance to progress from being young to being old—but not to go from being old to being indefinitely older; to relieve us of our most burdensome physical and mental suffering—but not always fully or perfectly; to rehabilitate us as best it can if we are disabled—but to understand that some of us will live our lives with chronic illnesses and disabilities; and to help us achieve as pain-free and peaceful death as is possible—but knowing that goal will not always be possible. Medicine ought not to seek an indefinite extension of life or aim to enhance our nature beyond the ordinary standards of good health, or search out medical ways of excessively fighting our decline and frailties, many of which are now and always will be unavoidable. Just as death ought not to be taken as the ultimate enemy of human life, health should not be taken as the ultimate good.”

From the book: TAMING THE BELOVED BEAST: HOW MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY COSTS ARE DESTROYING OUR HEALTH CARE SYSTEM by Daniel Callahan (Princeton University Press, 2009)

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Photo credit: Ripon College
Book excerpts from: PBS

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