Our own Daniel Callahan has a notable article written with Sherwin B. Nuland in the June 9 issue of The New Republic: “The Quagmire: How American Medicine Is Destroying Itself.” (It’s subscriber-only on their Web site.) They begin by asking a broad question about our outlook on medical progress: “What if we are refusing to confront the painful likelihood that our biological nature is not nearly as resilient or open to endless improvement as we have long believed?”
According to the authors, endless improvement is not on the horizon. But in pursuit of it, we have created new problems:
In the war against disease, we have unwittingly created a kind of medicine that is barely affordable now and forbiddingly unaffordable in the long run. The Affordable Care Act might ease the burden, but it will not eliminate it. Ours is now a medicine that may doom most of us to an old age that will end badly: with our declining bodies falling apart as they always have but devilishly—and expensively—stretching out the suffering and decay. Can we conceptualize something better?
Yes, Callahan and Nuland conclude—we can do better. “But it will require—to use a religious term in a secular way—something like a conversion experience on the part of physicians, researchers, industry, and our nation as a whole.” The details of that “conversion experience” are laid out in the rest of the article, and they track with some of the things Callahan has written in Commonweal (for example, “America’s Blind Spot: Health Care and the Common Good”). Worth reading and discussing — and feel free to use religious terms where appropriate.
As long as I’m recommending articles only subscribers can read online, let me mention a couple other recent gems you might want to seek out: first, Rachel Aviv’s article “God Knows Where I Am” in the May 30 issue of the New Yorker. Aviv uses the story of one mentally ill woman to explore the difficulties in treating patients who won’t admit that they’re sick. I found it haunting. Second, the latest Harper’s features a collection of tributes to the King James Bible on the occasion of its 400th anniversary. I didn’t care for most of the contributions, but a notable exception is Marilynne Robinson’s fine essay “What We May Be.” Look for it at a newsstand near you!