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"All Medicines are Poison!"

The Center for Inquiry is the place to go for atheist events in LA, and my personal favorite for lectures. So I was quite surprised when today's lecture left me unfulfilled.

Melvin H. Kirschner, an 83-year old doctor with a friendly personage, took the stage for a brief lecture on medicine, entitled "All Medicines are Poison! Making Your Way through the Medical Minefield." Looking at the title, and knowing that most skeptics are well-versed in the reactionism of the anti-medicine crowd, I thought the title had to be tongue-in-cheek. It wasn't -- he meant it. Dr. Kirschner started his talk by announcing that all medicines are, indeed, poison. His only evidence for this extraordinary claim was that all medicines have side effects. True, of course, but poison? Really? Does even a somewhat dangerous drug like Ritalin measure up to arsenic? How about the relatively benign drug, aspirin? And if they don't, is it responsible to label them as toxic? After all, the woman suffering from arthritis who learns her medicine is literally poison is better off suffering through the pain rather than getting treatment for her crippling condition. But no, medicines are not all poison, as Dr. Kirschner is clearly aware. He astutely pointed out that every medicine has "benefits and burdens," and that it is the job of physicians and patients to decide which outweighs the other. This, of course, is vital information, and certainly we should all be aware of the indications, contraindications and side effects of any drugs we choose to take. But that does not make them poison.


The good doctor's age did provide some interesting reflections on changes in the medical profession. He remembered a time when a pharmaceutical representative was trying to promote a drug known to cause severe birth defects. Those whose mothers took it were prone to extremely short limbs -- "like a walrus," he explained, seemingly unaware of the bite of his words.

It is reassuring that there are doctors who are concerned with the massive power and corruption of some major pharmaceutical companies. And it is good to be reminded that every medicine has side effects, and that we should always be making very careful, calculated decisions about what to put into our bodies. But is all medicine poison? No. And it is quite dangerous to say otherwise. And with all this talk of "benefits and burdens," I walked away from Dr. Kirschner's talk, full of information on the burdens of drugs. But what of the benefits? What of our increased lifespan, advanced pain relievers, and drugs that help a person who once thought they heard the voice of Satan to lead a normal life? I, for one, am endlessly thankful for the countless benefits of this so-called "poison."

Comments

  • Eugene Hamburger 4 years ago

    It's difficult to tell just based on your article, but was it possible that you misunderstood exactly what the title of the speach meant? I have read a little of Dr. Kirschner and he is using the term "medcine is poison" literally. Alchohol, chemotherapy drugs and morphine, for example, are legitimate poisons and the beneficial effects one receives from their ingestion is due to the side effects caused by the literal poisoning of your body. The only reason they do not cause you to die is because you (hopefully) stop short of a lethal dose. It is important for the logical minded to recall that most pharmacueticals ARE poison and muct be tightly controlled during administration to maximize the risk-to-benefit ratio.

  • Timothey L 4 years ago

    WHO IS EUGENE HAMBURGER? He never contributes anything interesting, and makes himself look like an idiot every time he posts, yet he keeps coming back. Get a life!

  • Greg Bart 4 years ago

    I think the "medicines are poison" tag is just a case of marketing gone mad. It may be hyperbole, but it is fundamentally true in the sense that ANY substance put into the body can be toxic, in sufficient amounts or in the right situation. This is true even of Dihydrogen Monoxide (water ;).
    Aspirin, for example, can cause severe bleeding and tissue damage to the stomach, in sensitive persons or if taken in overly large doses.
    As to the point that the doctor couldn't be bothered to mention the many, many benefits of medications in general, I'd guess he feels that the general attitude of the profession is so overwhelming positive toward pills that some extreme counter-rhetoric is in order.
    In my (unfortunately extensive) experience, many doctors are fairly ignorant of the more obscure yet potentially harmful side effects and contraindications their pharma prescriptions can trigger.
    Are all medicines poison? Maybe not, but they are all toxic enough to warrant great care when used.

  • Norm 4 years ago

    Personally, the only thing that cures my ills is a daily dose of my sweet, sweet Lord Jesus.

  • Carrie Poppy 4 years ago

    Greg: Yes, medicines all have contraindications and side effects, and can kill you. That does not make them poison. We get enough medical hysteria everywhere-- it is not uncommon at all. Please see Kevin Trudeau's criminal success. The fact that medicines can pose a threat does not justify calling them poisons, especially in a culture where medical reactionism (anti-vaccination movements, HIV/AIDS denialism, preference for homeopathy over medicine) is a huge problem.

  • Libertarian Organism 4 years ago

    The one thing that bugs me about atheists, is this strange belief than inorganic stuff is better for your body than organic. They don't insist we will live on pills of soylent green anymore, but they still tend to push drug war, and religion of pharmeceticals. Its not until the FDA scientists admit a mistake, bribe, or other corruption that the rest of us can then shake our fingers at the James Randis in righteous indignation. But we don't want to.

    Tells us the pros and cons, stop lying about illegal drugs, and let us decide. The religion of the nanny state that atheists and theist have inflicted on us needs to end.

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