Blaming our problems on oppression and alienation has become hazardous to our health, says Sally Satel, M.D., author of PC, M.D. The psychiatrist, a lecturer at the Yale University School of Medicine, believes people who claim to be socially oppressed or mistreated by the medical community are getting in the way of the important medical goal of preventing disease and injury.
The fight for better health through social justice, she says, at best “creates distractions and wastes money; at worst, (it) interferes with effective treatment.”
Satel’s brave and well-documented book in no way disputes the fact that poor and disenfranchised people have fewer choices or a more difficult time getting medical care. “But is there no room for them to exercise personal responsibility over their health?” she asks.
Rather than consider that social forces are the major determinants of health, Satel suggests that people need to take more personal responsibility for their health status by not smoking, eating healthy foods, exercising and avoiding unprotected sex. Doing so will eliminate 70 percent to 90 percent of disease in our population, says Richard Pasternack, director of preventive cardiology at Massachusetts General Hospital. In stating her points, the author makes it clear that the job of public health is simply to prevent injury and illness in practical ways, including making the public aware of risks for accidents and disease and of the ways to minimize them.
This frank and passionate book will stir some angry responses from those involved with politically sensitive issues, but its message is simply aimed at putting medicine and its associated research back on track.