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Recently, there have been news stories about scientists who are cloning pigs. The great benefit of this research, say the newscasters, is that pigs are anatomically similar to humans so they hope to clone organs that can be used for human transplants. Science fiction? No. Bizarre? Yes. Well, maybe not so bizarre. Medical science has been using animal products to treat human disease for years. Diabetics take insulin derived from pigs. Some vaccines are derived from animal diseases. Pigskin has been used for grafts on human skin. Many “breakthroughs” in medical science are made by doing experiments on animals and then the experimental treatments are tried on people.
How can doctors expect human beings to benefit from animal research? When they view the body as a physical machine divorced from any soul or spirit, it is easy. A body is a body. Parts are parts. Surgeons take one tube and replace it with another. A piece of intestine may be used to replace an esophagus. A vein in a leg is used to repair a heart. What difference does it make if the part comes from another human or an animal?
Not all doctors believe that human beings are just a collection of body parts. Some years ago I interviewed Dr. Bernie Siegel for Thresholds Quarterly. You may be familiar with Dr. Siegel (who likes to be referred to as “Bernie”) as the author of several books, most notably Love, Medicine, and Miracles. Bernie was educated as a surgeon and discovered through his practice that his greatest ability to help his patients came not from performing surgery or giving drugs, but from listening to them. Bernie learned through trial and error that people become ill because of their response to events in their lives. Knowing about their hopes and dreams, their lives, and their loves, helped him to help them.
He learned also that the greatest healing power is that of love. Bernie never learned any of that in medical school, and was, in fact, disappointed and angry that his education had not prepared him to treat people. He was envious of the nurses who had learned to understand patients as people, to nurture them, to learn about their emotional needs as well as their physical comfort. His medical school training taught him about disease and anatomy, about bodies rather than people. He laughed ironically, explaining that the medical students learned anatomy by dissecting corpses; thereby being taught that a dead body was the same as a live one.
In a similar vein, I spoke recently with another medical doctor who just moved to Arizona to practice medicine on an Indian reservation. She was consulting with the doctor on the reservation, a Native American male who has been trained as a western medical doctor. Having grown up on the reservation with Native American ideas, he said that in the Native American tradition he was taught that health has four spokes. He drew a medicine wheel with four corners, which he described as Spirit, Mind, Heart, and Body. Native Americans believe that health involves all four spokes in balance. He said, “as a medical doctor, what I’m taught is that the body is the only thing that’s the factor in health and disease. So it’s no wonder that our patients don’t get well, if all we’re looking at is the body, and we leave out the spirit and the mind and the heart.”
How have we gotten so far removed from the truth about healing? In the Bible and other holy scriptures, there are many stories about healing. The New Testament is full of parables about Jesus healing people. Why is that? If healing was a purely physical thing, if it was a purely medical endeavor, it probably wouldn’t be mentioned in holy scripture. Healing is a spiritual practice. In order for someone to heal, they need to move toward greater awareness of their Real Self, their spiritual self. When a person is sick, they are disconnected from their own spirit and from their Creator in some way.