There are quite a number of well known physicians who have spoken extensively about how public policy (read politics) should be used to change the dietary patterns of the population to improve the overall health of the nation. Perhaps, there is another way.
In his book “Morality : Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times” Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, describes 3 general ways in the public sphere that one can lead people to a desired goal. There is economic, where one pays for someone to do something. There is political, where one makes one to do something. And there is moral sphere “where we persuade them to do so because they and we are part of the same framework of virtues and values, rules and responsibilities, codes and customs, convention and constraints.”
The problem with failing back on politics and economics to implement change is that it ignores the moral dimension even if that very intention in the first place comes from a place of deep caring and concern for the health of the nation. The economic sphere has also been used through tax penalties to avoid certain foods and then there is the whole world of food subsidies from the government which exposes all too well how families’ health has been damaged by the influence of special interests.
Sadly, like all big institutions the healthcare system tends to depersonalize both those it seeks to service and the service providers, not out of a some evil conspiracy, it’s just the nature of huge institutions like healthcare, big business, big government, large organized religious institutions, and large educational institutions.
Many years ago I read a book on a program called the White House Fellows. Many names you know went through this program. I don’t recall the name of the book. Two names that come to mind that went through this program are Colin Powell and Sanjay Gupta, MD. This program gives talented men and women access to see the workings of government in ways unprecedented in civilian life and those who come through the program go on to make significant contributions to public life. My point here is that there is most certainly a role for people who understand government influence and want to use that system to achieve change. It’s one route to change just like financial. I’d like to look at change from another perspective, the moral one.
In his book Rabbi Sacks talks about society needing a shared morality. This can be extended to the health sphere as health involves alleviating human suffering. While the news everyday makes it difficult to understand dietary guidelines, everyone basically understands what junk food is and that they need to eat fresh or fresh frozen produce. So how do we extend our sphere of influence by including the moral dimension?
I think we do so by empowering people to be able to make their own choices when it comes to health. The first step is clearing up the conditioning around health. As Jonathan Sacks explains, we can’t outsource our morality to the state, and I’d like to add, we can’t outsource our bodies either. It is this mindset that robs our fundamental responsibility we have to ourselves, to become our own authority. We need experts and specialists who understand that the force and effectiveness of treatments and health guidelines are heavily influenced by how involved the person is in their own care not just for themselves but for their loved ones and for society as a whole. Dr. Kelly Turner, in her remarkable book, Radical Remission documents 9 features of people who healed from cancer despite the odds. One of the 9 is “taking control of your health.”
How can we, then, reconfigure the healing relationship between doctor and patient. I think again Rabbi Sacks in his book, Morality gives us an idea in his discussion of the family. The solution is to transform the contractual relationship into one where there is covenant, meaning where 2 come together to form an “us.”
In this relationship, there can be profound healing. I have deep gratitude for the patients I am privileged to establish just such a relationship. Each one changes me forever and allows me a glimpse of the immense possibility, miracle and learning that comes with healing. It recalls to me something from Ethics of the Fathers. “And this is what Rabbi Ḥanina said: I have learned much from my teachers and even more from my friends, but from my students I have learned more than from all of them.’ Just change “students” to patients and it expresses just one result of a covenantal doctor / patient relationship.
What is needed are healers who see and cultivate the covenantal relationship with their patients. Patients also play a role, the depersonalization of the healthcare model and the advertising of big Pharma has led to a situation where patients have very high expectations of immediate cure for most of the problems that plague them.
Healing as my teacher, Gerald Epstein, MD would remind me often comes from the root of a word that means wholeness and even holiness. That does not come from a pill but in establishing a relationship with your healer where your healer understands and respects your primary role and the ongoing journey to wholeness that needs to be undertaken.