Blog Post

When Terminally Ill Loved Ones Choose Alternatives

woman hospitalSL writes:  " . . . I lost my sister to cancer two years ago.  After her cough became progressively worse with alternative therapies she finally sought conventional treatment at the behest of her family. Unfortunately, it was too late in the course of her Stage 4 lung cancer . . . 

"Prior to seeing a traditional MD she had been working with energy healers, medical intuitives, Reiki practitioners (of which she herself was one) and acupuncturists.  Not one of these practitioners correctly diagnosed her true medical problem, yet they charged a lot of money for their services.  Although I don't dispute that many of them may have a sincere desire to help, I've often wondered if they weren't trying to play God with other peoples lives...seems a bit arrogant and egotistical in my view! They were all so shocked to learn that they missed the real picture, however, to my knowledge they are ALL still in business.  

Without coming across as closed-minded and dismissive of other people's desire to use these methods, how does one encourage a family member or friend to consult with a trained medical MD and recognize that a physician with years of training and experience might be their best bet. In my sisters case, I believe it may have extended her life and given her more time with her family.  

Also, can some of these therapies be used in concert with traditional cancer treatments according to the Church's guidelines?  Thanks, and keep up the good work. I enjoy the show so much."

First of all, our prayers are with you and your family as we ask God to comfort you in your loss. We also pray that the soul of your sister will be bathed in the mercy of God.

Second, it's never "close-minded" or "dismissive" to warn others about putting their life in the hands of an untested medical procedure or treatment. Instead, the Church considers this to be an act of charity. This is because when a person insists on using an untested treatment for a serious or contagious disease while refusing the best science of the day, they fall into the trap of deception and error. When this happens, they are subjecting their body (or someone else's in the case of a contagion) to illness and their loved ones to potential hardships.

This is one of the most serious problems with the influx of New Age and even occult-based medical procedures - many of which are administered by people with little or no medical training - or training in questionable fields such as naturopathy and homeopathy. Their top-notch marketing plans make it very hard to resist these practices, particularly by those who are the most vulnerable - such as people with cancer and other life threatening illnesses. The result is that they lure people away from conventional medicine where there's at least hope of a cure, and into the murky waters of untested alternatives.

Another problem is that alternative peddlers also like to prey upon people who are fed up with conventional medicine and those who have had bad experiences with doctors or drugs. They convince them of the existence of a great conspiracy between "Big Pharma", doctors, and hospitals which is aimed at discouraging them from using alternatives so they can keep all the money to themselves. As you so sadly point out, many of these alternative peddlers make a handsome sum of their own, often with greatly inflated prices and expensive "treatment protocols".

We have found that the best way to dissuade someone from relying on alternatives, especially one who is bitter about their experiences with conventional medicine, is to remind them that there are even more bad apples in the alternative market which is largely unregulated and open to anyone who wishes to don a white coat and play doctor. Proof of this can be found in the fact that the alternative medicine market has been around for ages and yet it can't boast of anything even close to what conventional medicine has accomplished such as the near eradication of of some of the world's most horrendous diseases such as polio, small pox, tuberculosis, bubonic plague, etc. Medical innovations in the treatment of serious illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes have extended the average lifespan by decades. People once doomed to die from defective hearts or other organs are now receiving new ones and living long and happy lives. Infant mortality rates have dropped in all industrialized nations and greatly improved in countries where conventional medicine is at least somewhat available.

People also have a way of convincing themselves that an alternative is working even though the treatment has not proven itself in a laboratory setting. While failing to understand the power of placebo, this list gives several reasons why people typically believe are working when something else is actually occurring instead.

If they are a Catholic, present them with the teaching of the Church on these matters.

If they still insist, do some research on the particular practice they're using. Find out who invented it, what kind of testing has been done on it, if any, and what were the results. The internet contains a vast body of information where you can find information on just about anything. Quackwatch is a website containing volumes of information of all kinds of fraudulent medical treatments and devices. You'd be amazed at how many of these alternatives show up on the FDA's Health Fraud list.

And yes, some non-conventional treatments can be used in conjunction with conventional medicine (these are usually called "complimentary" medical practices). Chiropractics (the mixed version, not the straights) is a good example of this.

Last of all, pray for them, especially if they are "digging in their heels" about the use of an alternative and just "don't want to hear it." Ask the Lord for the grace to penetrate their defenses, to say or do whatever it will take to get them to at least consider getting some sound medical advice. Maybe you could help them find a different doctor or healthcare facility.

No matter what the case, rely on God's grace to both break the impasse in your loved one, and for yourself to be the kind of gentle yet firm guide He needs you to be in order to steer your loved one into hands that can truly heal them - if healing is what God wills.