Quill • 2000 • 347 pages • $14.00 paperback
Dr. Dean Edell is the host of a widely syndicated radio program. He has distinguished himself in the medical communication profession by providing sound and unbiased medical advice; exposing sloppy, irresponsible, and dangerous health reporting; revealing the downfalls of government regulation; and crusading against the politicization of disease. In doing so, Edell has earned a reputation for controversial and iconoclastic views. An eye surgeon who takes a skeptical look at much of “mainstream” American medicine, Edell puts his refreshingly unorthodox ideas on display in this engaging book.
Especially unpopular with certain vocal interest groups is his opposition to measures to subsidize breast cancer and AIDS research. Government spending on disease research, Edell asserts, does not necessarily increase the chances of finding a cure. Moreover, research in one area of medicine commonly leads to a breakthrough in another. Federal grants to research universities, therefore, (if they are to exist at all) should not be restricted to the study of specific illnesses.
Equally controversial is the subtle case Edell makes for ending the war on drugs. The fight to stop recreational drug use has, according to the author, many silent victims. Alcohol, a drug that causes agitation and depression, is legal. Yet heroin, a drug that relaxes and uplifts users, and in controlled doses actually permits addicts to live productive lives, is illegal. If those predisposed to drug addiction could readily obtain narcotics from physicians, the author argues, there would very likely be less child abuse and lower unemployment. Edell also observes that there are many silent victims in the fight to stop recreational drug use. For example, as a result of stringent drug laws, pain sufferers, including children forced to undergo spinal taps, are commonly denied effective pain medication, despite evidence that use of narcotics to combat pain does not lead to recreational use.
While it is unthinkable to the majority of Americans to allow people who want to alter their consciousness to get the drugs they want, most of the same individuals see nothing wrong with putting children on one of the same drugs sold to addicts on street corners. Edell questions whether children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder are simply too creative and intelligent to sit quietly for long periods of time and criticizes the widespread use of Ritalin to calm them down.
Edell has the courage to tell people when their objections to health-related practices are unreasonable and the understanding of economics to demonstrate why. To individuals who complain about the high cost of brand-name prescription medicines, for example, he explains that countless hours of research go into the development of each new pill that hits the market. For every one new medication that works there are many more that do not. The cost of testing drugs that ultimately do not prove effective must be recovered through sales of those that do. That sensible argument may not satisfy the petulant crowd that thinks that medicines should be an entitlement, but it is nevertheless true.
Addressing the question of whether physicians are overpaid, Edell argues that the cost of a doctor’s time is a simple matter of market economics: you have to pay a worker enough to entice him to go into and stay in a line of work, and the difficulties and sacrifices of being a doctor are very high. Limiting the amount physicians can charge for their services would dissuade many bright and talented people from entering the medical profession.
A steadfast surveyor of medical news, Edell reports on breakthroughs months before they are covered elsewhere. He discusses the counterintuitive elements of research studies, and he is careful not to raise people’s hopes and fears. Edell believes that, owing in part to capricious scientific journalism, an alarming number of people are seeking medical attention unnecessarily. In America, where health care is treated as a benefit and entitlement, unnecessary visits to doctors’ offices and emergency rooms increase the costs of medical services and insurance, pricing out the poor and unemployed.
Americans enjoy better health today than at any other time in history. Yet we seem to worry more about health now than ever before. At the same time, we expect more. We are no longer satisfied with medical breakthroughs—we want and expect miracles. Dr. Edell’s book urges Americans to be cautious of products that promise to deliver. It is a must read for those who are overly concerned about their health.
Charles Stampul writes “On Principle” (email@example.com), an individualist ethics column.