BM: In what way are you disillusioned with Western medicine?
CL: I think Western medicine has a lot of positive things–I don’t want to sound like I’m totally negative on it–but I think Western medicine has a limited reality in the way it approaches problems. They look at things primarily from a purely chemical, mechanistic viewpoint of the body. They don’t integrate the emotional aspects with the physical and spiritual aspects of a person. And they tend to treat diseases, as opposed to people. I think that the majority of treatments are purely symptomatic; Western doctors don’t really understand the mechanisms of most of the medications that they use, and yet they say that they’re practicing science.
I think that’s very hypocritical, because they don’t really understand human physiology, and I don’t think they understand body energy, which is what acupuncture’s all about.
Until Western medicine starts to deal with the energetic aspects of the human body I don’t think they’re going to make much progress, because the Western approach is to cut out, or to treat with chemicals, or to poison, for instance, cancer, instead of supporting the body. Chinese medicine and alternative care tends to be more supportive, as opposed to attacking, and I think that’s what the body needs now more than ever, because of the bad environment and all the stress people have. People need support, and they need nurturing.
Ayurvedic medicine, Indian medicine, is just as old as Chinese medicine. [The Indians] have an energetic model of the human body as well. It’s interesting that these ancient medical systems both have energetic views of the body instead of physical views. They also integrate the consciousness of the person along with their physical, emotional, spiritual beings.
By spiritual, I don’t mean religious-spiritual. It has to do with a person’s desire or ability to reach their potential as a human being. It’s actually a reflection of the will of the person to have a positive life-style, a positive consciousness.
When you go through college, and you go through medical school, and you take these courses, you tend to believe what you’re taught as the only reality–and then you limit the world, you limit reality. In that process of going through medical school and residency, you are not encouraged to be creative or to think independently, or to question, or to go against the grain. I think that’s the reason why the medical system is so entrenched in the way they’re going–they’re stuck in this drug-therapy, surgical-therapy mentality. They’re still into the warfare of the body, as opposed to supporting the person.
BM: Is this the fault of, or a function of, the medical establishment, as represented by the American Medical Association?
CL: I don’t want to sound like I’m attacking either the AMA or Western medicine, but the AMA has not been very happy to see the growth of alternative therapies, which really started to come into the United States about 1970.
Unfortunately, I think the capitalistic system encourages a lot of bad medicine in this country. Medicine is a business, it’s run as a business. The AMA is the biggest real estate holder in the [near] north Chicago area. They get their money from their members, and they get it from all these other organizations, like the American Hospital Association, American Pharmaceutical Association, and insurance organizations.
You know, my parents are still members of the AMA–they’re still on the referral list. [Laughs.] Since 1972, the AMA has considered acupuncture experimental; and they still haven’t changed that, they haven’t done anything about that. And when it’s listed as experimental by the AMA, then the insurance companies are not going to cover it. Really, money is what speaks in medicine, money is what gives people power in medicine. And you can make the most money practicing conservative Western medicine, by either doing [surgical] procedures or [ordering] a lot of medications and tests. That’s where the money comes in–the insurance companies will pay. That’s why there’s the continuing escalation in the cost of medical care.
BM: What do your medical school classmates think of what you’re doing now?
CL: [Laughs.] Well, when I told one of my friends from my residency that I was doing acupuncture, he said, “Does it work?”
Recently I treated the mother of one of my classmates; she had a shoulder operation and severe pain that wouldn’t go away. It’s much better since her acupuncture. That’s the only way that I’m going to get respect–if I treat patients and I make ’em get better. Because, you know, medicine is like a religion. You have a fixed belief system and a certain ideology, and if you go outside that ideology–if you go to something that’s a little different, or something that maybe can’t be explained in the physical reality of what Western medicine is–then they reject it.
I think that most of the critics of acupuncture and other alternative care have really never even tried it, never even seen it, never even studied it. Most patients in America and Western society are brainwashed to think that medications are taking something through the mouth, that a pill is the only way to treat certain disorders. That’s the success of the commercialism of drugs, and I think that’s one of the reasons that we have a big drug problem in the United States–because we think we can cure problems, no matter what the problem is, with drugs.
When you go to other Western cultures, like France, and they have one-fifth the hysterectomy rate, it’s because of the cultural thing–the medical system there respects human organs, and they believe that it’s better to leave the woman intact. The cesarean rate is much lower in most other countries.
So culturally, from country to country, you have different ways of practicing medicine, different rates of certain types of surgery, and different use of medications.