Monday, October 2, 2023

When public health and individual freedom collide



Everything hurts.

Your joints, your bones, your skin, even your hair hurts. You don't want to move – which is fine, since you barely can. So, what do you reach for? A phone to call the doctor or, as in the new book "If It Sounds Like a Quack..." by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling, does that idea just make you wanna duck?

If you've ever fallen sick, broken a bone, or needed a doctor's excuse for work, you know that "America's health care ecosystem is... full of wealth and nonsense..."

Understanding it is impossible. Working your way through it, even more so, and "millions of Americans" don't even want to try. Instead, they reach for an unproven, alternative "One True Cure" that very rarely works. Doing so, says Hongoltz-Hetling, is a personal prerogative, a freedom, somewhat like consuming sugary drinks, not getting vaccinated, avoiding a seatbelt, and using recreational drugs. Those are things one person does that can ultimately affect the population as a whole.

So, is there a solution to a problem when "public health and individual freedom... collide?"

That's hard to answer. Some alternative medicines have been proven, sort of. Others do nothing or make an illness worse. Still, big bucks are spent each year on unproven cures, pills, herbs, lasers and caustic cocktails, and the government chafes.

Hongoltz-Hetling found Toby, for instance, a Montana man who sold "herbal concoctions" that he claimed could heal anything, until the FDA said he couldn't make that claim anymore. Robert in Utah, an ambitious man of God, embraced a debunked 19th-century cure. Alicja, born and raised in Poland, immersed herself in hirudotherapy, or the use of leeches, which challenged the FDA for a label. Dale and Leilani of rural Wisconsin believed that prayer could cure all, until they lost their youngest daughter to ketoacidosis. Larry was certain that lasers stopped disease in its tracks, but the FBI disagreed. The "alien who lived in Jim Humble's skin" claimed that only ancient, other-worldly medicine was right.

Meanwhile, says Hongoltz-Hetling, millions of Americans aren't "opting out of health care.... just professional health care."

Are you uncomfortable yet?  Because you should be. Author Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling should make you squirm here – but you're also going to laugh.

For sure, "If It Sounds Like a Quack..." is wry, irreverent, and hilarious, poking equal fun at presidents, patients, and quack practitioners alike, while it makes a big point: faux medicine is relatively harmless, until it's not and someone gets hurt. And people do, often, but as Hongoltz-Hetling shows, government oversight (or overreach, depending on your viewpoint) is ineffectual and can't always save people from themselves.

"We can all make fun," says Hongoltz-Hetling – and he does in these stories that read like a collection of novelettes – but he never loses sight of reality: One True Cures have "serious consequences." 

Before you click on that online ad, before you buy another bottle of herbs or an untested medical method, reach for "If It Sounds Like a Quack" first.

Reading it might make you stay safe. It sure can't hurt.


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