“Doctor, doctor, give me the news / I got a bad case of lovin’ you.”
Though musical artist Robert Palmer (singer of the title of this post) may be focusing on the lusty part of love, I’d like to focus on the over-reliance and/or over-belief aspect that is attached to our culture’s love…of doctors. In essence, I feel that we rely way too much upon the “professional opinions” of our doctors. Allow me to tell a personal anecdote to explain.
My grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was in her forties. She volunteered to have a mastectomy to reduce the risk of the cancer reappearing in her body once again, and the doctors said the odds of that happening were very slim. They were wrong.
Thirty years later my grandmother’s cancer returned with a vengeance, spreading throughout her whole body and threatening her life. The doctors were more conservative this time around, as they projected her to live only for a short while longer, even with chemotherapy and other treatments. Once again, they were wrong.
My grandmother thrice outlived the doctors’ life expectancy estimations, proving that her body was stronger than their medicines. However, as with almost all cancer patients as of yet, the cancerous genetic mutation did ultimately conquer.
In Gattaca, our protagonist Vincent Freeman says, “They’ve got you looking so hard for flaws that, after a while, that’s all you begin to see.” In our hospital society today, many doctors refer to their patients by numbers or by their ailments. Granted, I realize the pressures placed upon and the responsibilities of doctors, something that I would never want to undertake, but the humanity of healing humans is becoming lost in the science. And yet, we still uphold our doctors as demigods, relying on them to make everything better, that is, until the malpractice suits become profitable ventures (but that’s more of a societal ill than a medical one).
To relate this to our course of study, after watching Chapter 3, “One Wrong Letter,” and Chapter 14, “A Family Disease,” of the PBS “Cracking the Code of Life” NOVA Special, I wonder if I should be worried about my own younger sister having a predisposition to developing a case of breast cancer, knowing that it is a “hereditary disease” (courtesy of the BRCA 1 and 2 genes). I also feel compelled to wonder (possibly worry) about the probability of being a carrier of that gene for my children.
But even if I were to subject myself to an “almighty genetic test,” why should I be so confident in what the doctor would have to tell me about the results (false-positives, anyone)? Why should we trust their expertise so much? Should we forget that they, too, are human and apt to making errors, misjudgments, and biased opinions, just like every other human? We must keep in mind that the two magical letters of “M.D.” behind a man or woman’s name go both to the person who finished in the top of the class as well as to the person who finished in the bottom of the class, just as long as they passed the final exams, even if only barely.
But would the grand prosperity of the great Human Genome Project “cure” this doctors’ disease? Would genetic testing remove any wiggle room for doctors to interpret our DNA maps, thereby removing any analysis errors, misjudgments, or biases? Or will some doctors be like some drivers who don’t know how to read the roadmaps sitting on their laps?
(House, M.D. at your service.)
Something to “interpret.”