Is the body a machine? Are doctors mere technicians who simply “fix” biological defects in their patients? In a very real sense, that’s how modern societies conceive of medical practice, so much so that healthcare is now frequently experienced as an industrial process: doctors and nurses churning patients through an assembly line. And that process is taking a huge economic, physical, and mental toll on everyone.
The mechanical model on which modern medicine is based has obviously brought technological wonders to the practice of medicine—and it should be celebrated for these extraordinary achievements. But have we become so wedded to the machine metaphor that we ignore more fundamental aspects of human reality? Can another way of conceiving of health and life be brought to bear on the practice of medicine positively, without discarding the achievements of the scientific age?
Our guest is Dr. Victoria Sweet, author of the best-sellers God’s Hotel and Slow Medicine, two of the most important books on medicine in recent times. Those books were inspired by Dr. Sweet’s rediscovery of the medical texts of Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century mystic and nun whose practical approach to medicine may well contain the very principles that can help cure 21st-century health care from its seemingly irremediable predicament.
Victoria Sweet, MD: Website
Michel Accad. How Western Medicine Lost Its Soul. Linacre Quarterly, 2016 (open access)
Lenore Buckley. “What About Recovery?” (April 2019 in JAMA’s “A Piece of my Mind”)
Dr. Sweet’s Letter to the Editor to the New England Journal of Medicine, published Nov 25, 1993, in response to an article analyzing the high administrative costs of American hospital care.