The history of the body has always been a star-map. Yet, the medical and scientific community are largely in denial about this medical past. They would prefer to tell you the success story of their long journey to professional status from the 18th to 21st century. For thousands of years a surprising number of people across the world have believed in a system of healthcare that reflects universal balance.
David Tredinnick, MP for Bosworth and Hinckley, in an interview to the BBC on Friday 26th July 2014 talked about his belief in medical astrology. He has been for many years derided by the science community. Yet, the answers to an integrated system of healthcare might yet prove to be hidden in a medical astrology that gets the NHS fit for purpose in 21st century Britain.
To many medical journalists, doctors, and scientists it is unthinkable to contemplate ever returning a healthcare system that once thought medical astrology was normal. It would be ludicrous they tell us to look to astrology for biomedical solutions to serious conditions like Cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Yet, medical astrology has always been based on two founding healthcare principles that we badly need as modern patients.
In the past it was normal to ask a doctor to help rebalance your body. Patients expected to bring their birth chart to a consultation, not because astrology guaranteed them a cure, it couldn’t, but because most people valued being treated holistically. Examining someone’s natural personality traits, family healthcare histories, and then arriving at a diagnosis, was a tried and tested method of medical care that we have neglected to our social cost in the West.
As wonderful as our modern hospital system has been, it still has to process millions of people every year. And the financial reality is that there is only one cost-effective way to do this. Every doctor that works for the NHS knows they have to treat the patient as a site of disease with a set of defined medical procedures. In treating a single condition, the whole patient experience can be less of a priority. This is the price of progress and it is one that has taken precedence in the history of the body over how you are experiencing your mind, body, and spirit.
David Tredinnick MP might seem like a crank or a quack with no business promoting medical astrology, but ask yourself this – is it possible that there is something in what he is saying about how all human beings need to be treated as individuals by our modern healthcare system. In an ageing population we are confronting a really challenging medical reality. The history of medical astrology tells us that everyone has a different make-up, they react differentially to drugs, and a doctor really makes a difference when he does a holistic diagnosis to personalise a treatment plan. It is the medical humanities allied to science and medicine that brings people back to a healthy state they can live with, or eases their passing at the end of life.
Some people have fixed ideas. Others are more mutable. A certain type of patient will feel more emotional or have a firebrand nature. If you have fixed ideas then you can struggle to handle bad news; if you are a cardinal type of personality then your doctor probably needs to drip feed information to help you acclimatise to a major medical change. Those that feel emotions very deeply need a great deal of gentle handing in a crisis but can, as they are more mutable patients, be very adept at working with their ‘new normal’ once they understand what is happening to them and why. All of this humanities thinking was once the basis of medical astrology. It might seem like nonsense to modern science but it was all doctors had to work with in the past and they did so with remarkable success.
At a time when the General Medical Council is working out how to both deliver and secure patient dignity for every patient treated by the NHS, we urgently need to stop being so dismissive about the medical humanities of medical astrology. For finding balance in the body happens over a lifetime of doctor-patient relationships and not at a seven minute consultation in a doctor’s busy surgery. If we too, as patients, really care about the future of the NHS in Britain, then we also have to make up our minds about the healthcare lessons of our medical past, present and future. Rebalancing the body of everyone means working out together how to balance the books of a healthcare system that is world renowned.
As Joni Mitchell sang, ‘we are all stardust, billion old carbon’ and knowing our place in a universal pattern of human nature might yet prove to be the key to a healthier NHS that we bequeath to future generations. It will be one of the great ironies in modern biomedicine if it took a maverick MP to remind us that the medical humanities of medical astrology is not simply a history in our keeping, but in our making too.
Dr Elizabeth T Hurren is a Reader in the Medical Humanities at the University of Leicester
She has published widely on the history of the body and medical research.