Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In America, The Customer is Always Right

And especially so when the customer believes in an interventionist god, and the product is medical care for the dying:

An eye-opening survey reveals widespread belief that divine intervention can revive dying patients .... More than half of randomly surveyed [American] adults -- 57 percent -- said God's intervention could save a family member even if physicians declared treatment would be futile. And nearly three-quarters said patients have a right to demand that treatment continue.
The story goes on to note that in some cases, hospitals actually have to go to court to discontinue treatments for patients with no chance of recovery -- in effect, they have to get a court of law to pry loose someone's delusions.

It's understandable because people hear stories of miracles -- they read of them in the Bible, they encounter reports of them daily on religious broadcasts, they expose themselves to a never-ending stream of fictionalizations featuring deus ex machina endings, they receive breathless anecdotes of when "the doctors were wrong." This sort of thing doesn't come from nowhere:
The mother "absolutely did not want to withdraw" medical equipment despite the severity of her child's brain injuries, which ensured she would never wake up, Sise said. "The mom was playing religious tapes in the room, and obviously was very focused on looking for a miracle."
But when that mother leaves the hospital with those religious tapes and the body of her dead daughter, the faith that began as a fount of hope now serves as a freight of self-incrimination: why did god not see fit to answer my prayers?

The customer might have done well to enter the store with a more realistic frame of reference. Illusions are a natural response to distress, so it would be uncharitable to deny people their hopes in a moment of panic or loss. But it is also necessary to look past the moment and see illusions for what they are and to redirect our energies to solving and preventing problems here and now. The practical, results-minded, science-based medical research done today translates to fewer disconsolate parents tomorrow.

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