Chapter 3: The Moral Climate of Health Care

Section. 6 Reading

                                                                                     Death Rate Drops During Doctor Strike 

The June 10, 2000 issue of the British Medical journal reports on an interesting statistic that has occurred in Israel. It seems that three months ago physicians in public hospitals implemented a program of sanctions in response to a labor dispute over a contract proposal by the government.  The article stated that the Israel Medical Association began an action in March to protest against the treasurys proposed imposition of a new four year wage contract for doctors. Since then, the medical doctors have cancelled hundreds of thousands of visits to outpatient clinics and have postponed tens of thousands of elective operations. 

To find out whether the industrial action was affecting deaths in the country, the Jerusalem Post interviewed non-profit making Jewish burial societies, which perform funerals for the vast majority of Israelis.  Hananya Shahor, the veteran director of Jerusalems Kehilat Yerushalayim burial society said, "The number of funerals we have performed has fallen drastically."  Meir Adler, manager of the Shamgar Funeral Parlour, which buries most other residents of Jerusalem, declared with much more certainty: "There definitely is a connection between the doctors sanctions and fewer deaths. We saw the same thing in 1983 when the Israel Medical Association applied sanctions for four and a half months."

In response Avi Yisraeli, director general of the Hadassah Medical Organization, offered his own explanation, "Mortality is not the only measure of harm to health."  He goes on to say that, "Elective surgery can bring about a great improvement in a patients condition, but it can also mean disability and death in the weakest patients." 

Silver Bulletin e-News Magazine

Doctor-Caused Disease
By Monte Kline

One of the most common causes of disease (if not the most common cause) is conventional medical doctors! Sad, but too often true. The medical term coined to describe this problem is iatrogenic disease, from the Greek "iatros" meaning physician and "genesis" meaning origin. Thus we have doctor-caused disease.

Specifically, iatrogenic disease is defined as:

Any adverse reaction, either major or minor, to a medical or surgical treatment.

The late Robert Mendelsohn, M.D., while Chairman of the Medical Licensing Committee for the State of Illinois and Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine and Community Health at the University of Illinois School of Medicine, wrote:

. . . the greatest danger to your health is the doctor who practices Modern Medicine. I believe that Modern Medicine's treatments for disease are seldom effective, and that they're often more dangerous than the diseases they're designed to treat . . . I believe that more than 90% of Modern Medicine could disappear from the face of the earth-doctors, hospital, drugs, and equipment-and the effect on our health would be immediate and beneficial.


Whenever medical doctors go on strike, a most interesting phenomenon occurs - death rates go down! In 1976 in Bogota, Columbia medical doctors went on strike for 52 days, with only emergency care available. The death rate dropped by 35%. In 1976 in Los Angeles County a similar doctors' strike resulted in an 18% drop in mortality. As soon as the strike was over, the death rate went back to normal. A 50% decrease in mortality occurred in Israel in 1973 when there was a one month doctor's strike!


Since the early 1980's we've heard a lot about the impact of "managed care" and health care cutbacks. Medical doctors and political liberals are screaming that people are dying for lack of services. Actually, just the opposite is true. Since the "downsizing" of conventional medical services in the 1980's, life expectancy has made a massive jump both in the U. S. and Canada. No drug therapy and surgical technique can be shown to have statistically increased the general life expectancy. No generation has had its life expectancy increased significantly since medical doctors began using chemical treatments. Researchers John and Sonja McKinlay found that medical intervention only accounted for 1 - 3.5% of the increase in the average lifespan in the U. S. since 1900.


Alternative cancer treatment authority, Dr. Ralph Moss, notes that a 1999 article in The Journal of The American Medical Association stated that prescription drugs kill over 100,000 people per year in U. S. hospitals. The F.D.A. noted that back in 1978 1.5 million Americans were hospitalized as a result of taking medical drugs. One in seven hospital beds is taken up by patients suffering from adverse drug reactions. The General Accounting Office stated that 51.5% of all drugs introduced between 1976 and 1985 had to be relabelled because of serious adverse reactions found after the marketing of these drugs - reactions like heart, liver or kidney failure, birth defects, blood disorders, respiratory arrest, seizures, and blindness.


Most people are not aware that drugs companies spend thousands of dollars per year on each medical doctor "selling" them on using their particular products. Drug companies hire "detail men" to visit physicians' offices and give them drug samples. These salesmen, who are not doctors and have no medical or pharmacological training, tell your medical doctor what drugs to use for what problems. Drug companies start this process early by offering medical students gifts, free trips to "conferences," and free "educational material," which translated means propaganda on that drug company's products. In Australia drug companies spend an average of $10,000 per year per physician marketing their products. The result of all of this is a massive overprescribing of drugs.

The drug companies don't stop with just practicing M.D.s, though, but also direct major dollars toward hospitals, medical schools and supposedly "independent" research institutes. Medical schools, for example, are given grants for clinical trials, pharmaceutical research, or even buildings. These companies have sought to gain massive influence over medical teaching institutions by spreading their money around. Dr. Alan Levin, Adjunct Associate Professor of Immunology and Dermatology at the University of California states:

Pharmaceutical companies, by enlisting the aid of influential academic physicians, have gained control of the practice of medicine in the United States. They now set the standards of practice by hiring investigators to perform studies which establish the efficacy of their products or impugn that of their competitors. . .


Hospitals are a hotbed of iatrogenic disease. Every year two million people are admitted to hospitals with one health problem and end up with another health problem! According to Dr. Mendelsohn these doctor-caused illnesses kill as many as 20,000 people annually. A study in the Southern Medical Journal reported that one in five patients admitted to a university hospital acquires an iatrogenic disease, and one in thirty of these lead to death. Of these iatrogenic deaths, half are complications of drug therapy and 10% result from improper diagnostic procedures.
Another study of 815 consecutive patients in a university hospital over an eight month period found that 36% had a disease caused by their doctor - in 2% of the cases the iatrogenic disease was believed to be a cause of the patient's death.

If you project that figure out, assuming 2% of all hospital patients die from an iatrogenic disease, you get 700,000 hospital/doctor-caused deaths per year - one third of all deaths!


In the 1840's Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis directed a teaching hospital in Vienna, where 75% of the women giving birth were dying of puerperal fever. He observed that doctors went from dissecting cadavers to delivering babies without washing their hands. Dr. Semmelweis made the "radical" policy change of requiring doctors to wash their hands before delivery a baby. An amazing thing happened - the mortality rate drop fifteen-fold. Unfortunately, his arrogant colleagues couldn't see the connection, so they dismissed him and ostracized him. The rejection ultimately drove Semmelweis to death in an insane asylum - another great moment in the history of iatrogenic disease.

But doctors are enlightened nowadays about sanitation, aren't they? A 1981 study of washing habits in intensive care units found that only 28% of the doctors washed between patients in a teaching hospital and only 14% washed in the private hospital! Dr. Mendelsohn noted:

. . . the sanitary practices of the medical personnel are often abominable and the hospital itself is probably the most germ-laden facility in town.

Your chances of getting an infection in the hospital are one in 20 with 15,000 people dying annually from hospital-acquired infections.


Dr. Arthur Mannix, Jr. declared in an article in the New York State Journal of Medicine:

Errors in judgment or technique concerning either the anesthesia or the surgery, or a combination of the two, contribute to close to 50% of the deaths in the operating room.

I think what that translates to is that disease is only responsible for 50% of the deaths on the operating table, while doctors are responsible for the other 50% of deaths.
The McCarthy-Widmer study in the New England Journal of Medicine noted the following:

1. 20% of all surgery is unnecessary.
2. This unnecessary surgery costs consumers over $3 billion per year.
3. There are 2.4 million unnecessary operations annually.
4. This unnecessary surgery results in 12,000 unnecessary deaths each year.

Another study showed that when a second specialist was consulted, 18% of the time he disagreed with doing the surgery.
Hysterectomies are the most common operation today with nearly one million done per year. In six New York hospitals 43% of their hysterectomies were found on review to have been unjustified. Women with abnormal bleeding from the uterus or heavy menstrual blood flow were given the operation though other treatments or none at all would probably have worked as well.


"Doctors in general should be treated with about the same degree of trust as used car salesmen."
- Robert Mendelsohn, M.D.

1. Caveat emptor - "Let the buyer beware." Don't assume your doctor knows everything, or that he or she necessarily knows what's best for you. Use your doctor like your lawyer or CPA - someone to give you counsel with you making the final decision.

2. Don't panic with sickness - Sickness is an opportunity to learn about your body's needs and to seek God's direction. Remember the story of King Asa in the Old Testament who died because he only sought the physicians instead of first seeking the Lord for his illness (II Chron. 16:12).

3. Avoid treating symptoms - There would be little iatrogenic disease if people were not so intent on treating symptoms. Instead you must get down to root causes, which usually means lifesytle change.

4. Don't "quick fix" pain - Get over the idea that pain is something that has to be immediately eliminated at any cost. That view encourages a lot of symptom treatment and resulting drug iatrogenesis. Pain is a warning that something's wrong. Again, seek to fix the underlying cause and that will fix the pain.

5. Seek appropriate health care services - The old saying says: Never ask a barber if you need a haircut. Don't expect anything but a prescription drug for symptoms when you go to a medical doctor. If you want to deal with underlying causes, go to the appropriate natural medicine doctor. Of course, if you have an emergency situation or some type of acute problem, conventional medicine is best equipped to deal with that.

6. Stimulate natural healing, don't sabotage it - Symptom treatments, like the frequent use of antibiotics, destroy your natural immunity, and thus open the door for more iatrogenic problems. Focus on detoxifying, correcting nutrient deficiencies, allergic desensitizing, and exercise to free up your body to heal itself.

Contributed by Tony Isaacs 


When doctors go on strike does the death rate go down?

January 4, 2008

Dear Cecil:

Hi, Cecil. I have come across a number of seemingly credible reports suggesting that every time doctors go on strike the overall death rate goes down, in some cases quite precipitously. Can you ascertain if this in fact is the case or if some other factors are at work here?

As we'll see below, Jacob, it's not really so surprising that mortality statistics sometimes show a drop during a doctors' strike. What's staggering is that a reasonable person could see such stats and for even an instant think: Holy crap, those doctors are killing us. Sure, there'll always be a few alternative-medicine fringe dwellers who genuinely see the medical establishment as some sinister cabal presiding over a high-density feedlot of human misery. But the way this "fact" about doctors' strikes gets passed around suggests that a lot more people are a little more nuts than you'd want to imagine.

No one's suggesting that changes in the availability of doctors wouldn't affect what happens to their patients in the short term - a study from last May, for instance, found that in both Australia and the U.S. birth rates decreased from 1 to 4 percent on days when OB/GYNs held their annual conferences. But looking over the data on doctors' strikes, it's hard to see where the MDs are saving many lives by staying out of the OR:

  • One example often cited is that of a monthlong strike by Los Angeles County physicians in 1976, during which the mortality rate for patients was seen to drop by 18 percent. But a 1979 study in the American Journal of Public Health showed that the overall area death rate remained unchanged, as enough personnel remained on duty to handle the real emergencies. Any seeming benefit to patients' health likely resulted from about 11,000 fewer operations (presumably elective) being performed that month than was typical, meaning that an estimated 50 to 150 patients who could have been expected to die didn't.
  • A four-month Israeli doctors' strike in 1983 was found to have some definable effects on public health - the percentage of cesarean sections increased somewhat, and one study suggested hypertension patients might have received worse treatment - but no observed impact on mortality. Nonetheless, the popular wisdom saw the work stoppage as a disaster: a detailed study of public perceptions afterward found that nearly one in four urgent-care patients (or their relatives) felt the strike had resulted in major health problems.
  • A 1984 doctors' strike in Varkaus, Finland, mainly meant fewer visits for colds and stomachaches; no significant harmful effects to the public were seen, researchers found, and the uptick in visits after the doctors returned to work suggested that patients were glad to have them back.
  • Another key example used to support the proposition that fewer doctors means fewer deaths comes from a June 2000 article in the British Medical Journal written during another Israeli strike; the author reported that in the three months after doctors walked out death rates fell significantly in affected cities. However, her data was by no means the result of a scientific study but consisted mostly of anecdotal reports from funeral home directors, who claimed they'd seen "the same thing in 1983." What is known is that, as in the LA strike, many thousands of elective surgeries were postponed but emergency rooms and chronic care departments remained open.
  • In 2003 a SARS outbreak closed four hospitals in Toronto, and all non-emergency services were suspended. Among other things, this led to the canceling of a quarter to a half of joint-replacement surgeries, 40 percent of cardiac surgeries, and as much as 93 percent of some outpatient procedures. The result? The greater Toronto area did see a slight dip in mortality rate relative to the prior two years, but so did the rest of Ontario, and the decrease wasn't statistically significant anyway.

So despite media suggestions to the contrary, doctors' going on strike doesn't seem to have much effect on the death rate one way or the other, and any reduction seen is probably the result of postponed or canceled nonemergency surgeries. And that figures: any surgery is risky, and some common procedures (like coronary bypass or aneurysm repair) have a death rate you just can't ignore. But leaving the tummy tucks out of it, most elective surgeries boast a pretty serious payoff, either in quality-of-life improvement right now or in medical trouble avoided down the line. If 600 people die each year as a result of hip-replacement surgery, does that mean the 200,000-plus patients that pulled through were fools to go under the knife? You're welcome to calculate the odds however you like, and in certain cases it may well make sense to question the value of surgery. As a general proposition, though, if my health is on the line, I'm glad to hear that the doctor is in.

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Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2002. All Rights reserved.

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