No need to categorically reject Western Medicine

by Tim McNamara, The Buddhist Channel, Oct 14, 2005

I was disappointed to read what amounts to an anti-medicine rant disguised as commentary on the death of Sayadaw U Silananda. Modern medicine alleviates much misery and suffering every day around the world and is generally more efficacious and reliable than folk remedies,"natural" healing practices and the like.

Sometimes the treatments are unsuccessful or even make matters worse, perhaps even resulting in death. The risks of this are usually well-known and are typically discussed with the patient and those people sharing in the patient's life. A categorical rejection of medicine only serves to increase suffering, not to decrease suffering.

All of our choices have consequences; this is unavoidable. Sometimes the wisdom of any particular choice can only be seen in hindsight.

In the US, cancer is the second leading cause of death by disease, following heart disease, and is more than twice the number of physician-related deaths proposed in the book cited. In the case of a Glioblastoma Multiforme, such as is reported to have been the type of tumor suffered by Sayadaw U Silananda, the prognosis is poor.

GBM is the most malignant of the brain tumors, with most patients living only six to twelve months after diagnosis, and less than 10% surviving two years. As such, the death of Sayadaw U Silananda is quite likely to have been a result of his tumor. His treatment could not cure him, but that is not the same thing as his treatment killing him. It is not at all obvious that his death was iatrogenic; it may be that his therapy did hasten his death, it may be that it did not. It may simply be that his treatment did not prevent his death.

Did Sayadaw U Silananda and his followers make the correct choice? No one who was not directly involved and possessed of all the facts can determine this. And even with all the facts, one may still not know what the "correct" choice would be. Instead of criticizing, our compassion should be directed to those who knew him. His own teachings on forgiveness can be an inspiration in this conversation.
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