Brought to you by the students of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine
The interrelationship between medicine and miracles is a tantalizing one, albeit controversial. When miracles are infused into medicine, the possibilities are manifold: a teenage girl can live months without a real heart while entirely sustained by artificial pumps, a boy can survive a decapitation, and a comatose individual can regain consciousness with stimulation electrodes implanted in his brain. In many instances, medicine has the prodigious capability to fix and heal. Conversely, medicine also has the power to fail spectacularly. One only needs to evoke memories of patients with wrongly amputated legs and neonates with deformities resulting from “morning sickness” pills to concur.
Thus, one can easily find evidence to defend or refute whether miracles play a role in medicine. But then the next logical question is, if miracles do impact medicine, what is the nature of that impact?
Should medicine remain unscathed by the romantic notions of miracles? There are many who would support this claim. By overinvesting in miracles, patients may set themselves up for disappointment with the scarcity of medical cures, the cumbersome management of disease, and the irrefutable truth that medicine cannot save every life. Belief in miracles may prompt patients to have impossible standards for physicians to live up to, which surely contributes to physician frustration and guilt. Playing the “miracle card” may cause patients to feel dependent upon physicians and less involved in self-care. When medicine fails, patients may either blame their physicians or self-flagellate themselves for the absence of miracles. Similarly, physicians’ belief in miracles may cause them to feel personally responsible for what they can accomplish for each patient. Inevitably, this “I should do everything” mindset is disastrous for physicians and patients.
However, miracles can serve a higher purpose in medicine and become an intangible force from which medicine benefits. Miracles should not be a specter that medicine evades. Truly, belief in miracles can infuse patients with a sense of hope and reassurance. It can keep them from unraveling in an existential crisis, wallowing in self-pity, or potentially engaging in defeatist behaviors that subvert their own health. The mere faith in medical miracles can prompt a placebo effect, and patients can unwittingly self-heal due to belief alone.
Ultimately, a moderate approach to miracles in medicine is essential. And no matter how some may try, biomedical reductionism will not expunge the seductive and curative power that miracles have on our thinking and on our bodies. A belief in miracles unites us with others, and stimulates our relationship with a higher spiritual being or the greater Cosmos.
Realism and practicality are necessary for effective medical care. Physicians and patients alike should appreciate and acknowledge the present limitations of biomedicine. But dogged realism and determinism will only keep us submerged in the constraints of today, myopic to the possible curiosities of tomorrow. Our belief in miracles is a linchpin of all therapeutic advancements that we should protect at all costs.
Copyright © 2013 Mentis
About the author:
Candice Carpenter is a first year medical student. She is deeply interested in issues related to bioethics, medical entrepreneurship, social justice, patient empowerment, educational innovation, as well as integrative medicine.
About the artwork:
This is a print with ink made from an etching by Claire Seguin, a first year med student.