There is, in today’s New York Times, an expose over which Hollywood must surely, as we speak (er…write or read), be collectively drooling.
In the article, In Vast Effort, F.D.A. Spied on E-Mails of Its Own Scientists,
Reporters Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane, write that the Food and Drug Administration has conducted a remarkably far-reaching surveillance of some of their own scientists who have questioned certain of the FDA’s rulings.
Here’s the meat of the thing:
“The extraordinary surveillance effort grew out of a bitter dispute lasting years between the scientists and their bosses at the F.D.A. over the scientists’ claims that faulty review procedures at the agency had led to the approval of medical imaging devices for mammograms and colonoscopies that exposed patients to dangerous levels of radiation.”
[for the entire article, click here.]
More than 80,000 pages of documentation were collected by the FDA, on 21 agency employees, Congressional officials, outside medical researchers and journalists they found had concerns about how the FDA makes their decisions. It seems, of six scientists suing the FDA, four were let go they claim, as retribution for speaking out.
Now. How does this concern us? It seems to me it is naive to trust the decisions that emerge from the FDA, whether we are physicians or patients. It also seems to me naïve to trust information coming from the manufacturers of drugs and medical devices. It is tough to make decisions about our own health care and to make informed recommendations to our patients when it is doubtful that we are given accurate information upon which to base our decisions.
Let’s take the mammogram question, for example.
I have personally known women whose lives were probably saved by a well-timed mammogram. And I have personally known women whose breast cancer was not detected by a mammogram, even though they had them very regularly. In Chapter 13 of Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life, I explore the practice and efficacy of mammograms. I won’t get into it all here again. But, when we add to that exploration this new concern about whether or not we are receiving unsafe levels of radiation with our mammograms, well…the waters get even murkier, don’t they.
What to do.
It is easy to let fear run the show. We may opt to receive medical tests because we are fearful of disease. And we may opt never to receive them because we are fearful of their side effects.
In sanskrit the word for healthy is “svastha,” which means to be established in the Self. If we take external circumstances and information into consideration, then look inside for the clarity that underlies the data, our final decision is informed from within, as cliché or corny as that may sound. Whenever I am making a decision—medical or otherwise— I try to weed out fear and seduction from my motivating factors. I have found neither fear of things that have not yet occurred, nor seduction based on preferred outcomes, to be solid cornerstones of a wise decision.
There are no guarantees in medicine. So, for myself, I weigh the situation as clearly as I can, (yes, even in the face of the fact that I may not have accurate information about risks, etc.), try to throw the fears and seductions in the trash, try to find a bit of inner clarity that is usually buried underneath the fear and seduction, and then have the courage go with that clarity. And not look back.
And. If there is no clarity under there, I wait. One of my teachers used to say, “When in doubt, do nothing.” I have found this to be a powerful personal tool. I find that, if I have no clarity on something, that if I wait, the situation does become clear.
In the meantime, should I freak out?
Is there hope?
My guru used to say that it is better to dig the well before you get thirsty. It is similarly useful to practice listening within before we are in crisis. We can start by taking some full breaths, by feeding our minds and spirits some positive stuff and to enjoy the healthy physiological effects of all these things. Gratefully, they come with zero negative side effects.