Exploring a new era in health care


Larry Dossey has a vision for the 21st century. It will seem radical to many people, and especially to those he most wants to reach: the medical community.

Yet his timing is right. "Reinventing Medicine: Beyond Mind-Body to a New Era of Healing" comes as millions of Americans are exploring alternative and complementary forms of health care and physicians themselves are recognizing some of the shortfalls of traditional therapies.

What he proposes in this provocative volume will make a splash whose ripples are likely to spread indefinitely. It calls for doctors to change their perception of reality.

His premise is that consciousness is infinite and fundamental in the universe. This is now buttressed by a host of scientific studies as well as people's everyday experiences, Dossey says. These herald what he terms Era III in modern medicine.

Era I, he says, which began in the 1860s, is materialistic and mechanistic, and is still the predominant practice (and how most doctors were trained). Era II, or mind-body medicine, developing since the 1950s, acknowledges the influence of an individual's mind on the body.

Era III, growing out of studies involving intercessory prayer and other forms of "distant intentionality," recognizes that mind is also a factor in healing between persons. Mind is found to be "nonlocal," not bounded by the brain, and healing is not constrained by time or space. The implications of "nonlocal mind" (his preferred term) are profound and include immortality, he says.

To make his case, Dossey surveys the pertinent studies showing the effects of distant intentionality on nonhumans and humans, and discusses phenomena such as dreams, psychic experiences, telesomatic events, "miracles," and what it means to be "in the zone" in sports and other endeavors.

Dossey aims to transform medical treatment, to have doctors and hospitals embrace study results and incorporate various therapies related to "distant healing" along with the best therapies from Eras I and II.

To portray the treatment of the future, he creates a story of an emergency-room doctor who provides the latest in trauma care for a car-accident victim while calling on an international prayer network set up by the hospital chaplain and employing her own method of "trying to guide her patient's outcome with her intentions, wishes, and prayers."

When the patient becomes conscious, she is given options for continued care: "We can use a little Era I local anesthesia. Or some Era II hypnosis, imagery, and relaxation; or some Era III intentions and prayer.... All or none of the above." The patient accepts the doctor's recommendation to have all three.

This detailed story, worthy of "ER," likely represents the journey of Dossey and a few others on this path. As such, it reveals the courage and compassion of these pioneers but also the state of developments, where it's deemed appropriate to employ many differing methods at once.

The studies supporting his thesis, which range from mentally influencing biochemical reactions in animal tissue to prayer for AIDS patients, have been controversial. While some have criticized methodology, David Larson, head of the National Institute for Healthcare Research, says the more recent studies have been reasonably well done. The crucial issue, he says, is explaining the results in terms that fit in a framework scientists can understand.

The studies differ from several others publicized recently demonstrating that people who attend church regularly are healthier and live longer. Many scientists have accepted those, Dr. Larson said in a recent interview, because results could be attributed to social support and a healthy lifestyle.

"Reinventing Medicine" is valuable for its assessment of medical-era practices, elaboration of key studies, and presentation of the emerging understanding of consciousness and the "case for nonlocality." Dossey performs a service for the layman and physician by presenting the issues and the case for change.

*Jane Lampman writes about religion and ethics for the Monitor.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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