By Dr. Christopher Kent

Null [1] et al have published the most comprehensive and welldocumented study I have seen of deaths associated with medical practice. In this report, their research revealed some shocking facts. The findings are summarized in the abstract:

“A definitive review and close reading of medical peerreview journals, and government health statistics shows that American medicine frequently causes more harm than good. The number of people having inhospital, adverse drug reactions (ADR) to prescribed medicine is 2.2 million. Dr. Richard Besser, of the CDC, in 1995, said the number of unnecessary antibiotics prescribed annually for viral infections was 20 million. Dr. Besser, in 2003, now refers to tens of millions of unnecessary antibiotics. The number of unnecessary medical and surgical procedures performed annually is 7.5 million. The number of people exposed to unnecessary hospitalization annually is 8.9 million. The total number of iatrogenic deaths shown in the following table is 783,936. It is evident that the American medical system is the leading cause of death and injury in the United States. The 2001 heart disease annual death rate is 699,697; the annual cancer death rate, 553,251.”

The authors conclude: “When the number one killer in a society is the healthcare system, then, that system has no excuse except to address its own urgent shortcomings. It’s a failed system in need of immediate attention. What we have outlined in this paper are insupportable aspects of our contemporary medical system that need to be changed beginning at its very foundations.”

A report from the Centre for Health Program Evaluation in Australia [2] should also raise concerns. This study looked at the relationship between the size of the doctor supply, and whether the effect of having more doctors was positive or negative. The abstract states the alarming result:

“There is now documented evidence that adverse events associated with medical interventions have a seriously deleterious affect on population health. However this literature does not indicate whether or not the net affect of an increase in the doctor supply is positive or negative. There are, additionally, other mechanisms by which an increase in the doctor supply could reduce the quality and length of life. This paper revisits two hypotheses concerning doctor induced poor health. Econometric results using Australian crosssectional data are presented. They are consistent with the hypothesis that an increase in the doctor supply is associated with an increase in mortality.”

The authors describe three mechanisms that may contribute to the increase in mortality that is associated with an increased number of doctors:

1. Adverse events. These include iatrogenic events and mistakes.

2. Dependency on medical care. The authors suggest that increasing the doctor supply may cause the population to become increasingly dependent on medical services to maintain their health.

3. The substitution hypothesis. People neglect lifestyle factors. Put another way, responsibility shifts from the individual to the doctor.

Mercola [3] commented: “People understand that certain lifestyle choices are better for their health, yet may not want to make the ‘right’ choices because they are less pleasurable in the present. In order to resolve the conflict of knowing intellectually what the healthy lifestyle choices are while having a desire to live a selfindulgent life, the researchers say people may ‘adopt an exaggerated confidence in the efficacy of medical care and its ability to offset the harmful effects of selfneglect’.”

Yes, medical interventions save lives. There is no question that many would die without them. However, according to the Australian study, more people die because of medical treatment. The lesson is simple: Medicine judiciously applied can benefit individuals and society. However, when medicine becomes a substitute for selfresponsibility, and dangerous interventions are used before exhausting safer alternatives, the net effect is negative.

What has this got to do with chiropractic? Why must we indulge in gratuitous medical bashing? The answer is simple. This is not gratuitous bashing, it’s merely acknowledging reality. And it is of interest to chiropractors for two important reasons.

The first has to do with identity. There are those in the profession who are encouraging “integration” of chiropractic into the medical system as a limited musculoskeletal specialty. Chiropractors must ask themselves, “Do I want to be identified as part of a system that is the leading cause of death in this country? Do I want to be part of a failed system that is bankrupting the economy? Do I want a fragmented, subservient role in such a system?”

The alternative is to assume our rightful role as leaders in the health care revolution. The revolution is underway. We can lead the revolution, or be passed by. Will we have the fortitude to tell the truth, and reach out to the masses who are demanding what we have? Or, should we buy a oneway ticket for a short trip on the allopathic Titanic?

The second reason has to do with public health responsibility. As chiropractors, we have a unique philosophy, and we have the technical skill to deliver a safe, effective health service based on the philosophy. This is our legacy the “sacred trust” referred to by the developer of our profession.


1. Null G, Dean C, Feldman, M, Rasio, D, Smith D: “Death by Medicine.” Life Extension. March, 2004.

2. Richardson J, Peacock S: “Will more doctors increase or decrease death rates?” Centre for Health Program Evaluation. April 2003.


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