Living up to expectations

There was a fascinating article about a physician-researcher named Dr. Donald A. Redelmeier on the front page of the “Science” section of the New York Times on Tuesday (8/31/10). Described in the Times as the “leading debunker of preconceived notions in the medical world,” Dr. Redelmeier has carved out a niche for himself by applying “scientific rigor to topics that in lesser hands might have been dismissed as quirky and iconoclastic,”according to the Times. “In doing so,” the article continues, “his work has shattered myths and revealed some deep truths about the predictors of longevity, the organization of health care and the workings of the medical mind.”

Among other distinctions, Dr. Redelmeier was the first to study cell phones and automobile crashes. His study concluded that “talking on a cellphone while driving was as dangerous as driving while intoxicated.”

He often works on a hunch.

Dr. Redelmeier’s work on longevity began 10 years ago, when he was watching the Academy Awards and noticed that the celebrities on stage “don’t look anything like the patients I see in clinic,” he said. “It’s not just the makeup and the plastic surgery and wardrobe. It’s the way they move, it’s their gestures. They seem so much more vivacious. It seemed so much more than skin deep and might go all the way to longevity.”

His findings: Academy Award winners live an average of three years longer than the runners-up. A potential explanation could be an added measure of scrutiny, a public expectation of healthier living.

Whoa! “a public expectation of healthier living”?!

That got my attention. Sounds as if he’s saying that how we think about ourselves and others may have an impact on health and longevity.

And that sounds familiar — it sounds a lot like Christian Science.

In one telling passage from the textbook used by Christian Science practitioners, Mary Baker Eddy wrote:

In medical practice objections would be raised if one doctor should administer a drug to counteract the working of a remedy prescribed by another doctor. It is equally important in metaphysical practice that the minds which surround your patient should not act against your influence by continually expressing such opinions as may alarm or discourage, — either by giving antagonistic advice or through unspoken thoughts resting on your patient.

Elsewhere, she acknowledges the importance of expecting good:

When the destination is desirable, expectation speeds our progress.

Mary Baker Eddy had great respect for the medical profession. She wrote:

A patient’s belief is more or less moulded and formed
by his doctor’s belief in the case, even though the doctor
says nothing to support his theory. His thoughts and his
patient’s commingle, and the stronger thoughts rule the
weaker. Hence the importance that doctors be Christian
Scientists.

It seems to me that she embraced medical professionals, because she understood their motives and hers to be aligned. Both were engaged in alleviating suffering and curing disease.

So it is a mistake to think that Christian Scientists are opposed to doctors. On the contrary, in a chapter entitled, “Science, Theology, Medicine,” she wrote, “Great respect is due the motives and philanthropy of the higher class of physicians.” And that chapter concludes with quotations from a half-dozen physicians.

That said, Mrs. Eddy did not deviate from her understanding that there remains a difference between systems based on material premises and Christian Science, which relies on divine Mind as the healer. Still, she acknowledged the distance that would need to be traveled — and, I think, she included medical doctors as her colleagues — when she wrote, “Much yet remains to be said and done before all mankind is saved and all the mental microbes of sin and all diseased thought-germs are exterminated.”

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