America’s Futile War on Drugs

by Mark Harvey

Sometimes our American ideas about social problems and how to fix them are downright medieval, ineffective, and harmful. And even when our methods are ineffective and harmful, we are likely to stick to them if there is some moralistic taint to the issue. We are the children of Puritans, those refugees who came to America in the 17th century to escape King Charles.

To say Puritans had strong beliefs is as understated as saying Genghis Khan enjoyed a little pillaging and conquering out on the Asian steppes. The Puritans were believers like no believers before them. And in general, they weren’t a lot of fun. As if religious services aren’t serious enough, the Puritans eliminated choral music and musical instruments from their churches because those touches were a little too much like the papistry of the Catholic Church. Puritans in Massachusetts even banned Christmas for a spell as they thought the holiday had a pagan origin and therefore embraced idolatry.

The journalist H.L. Menken put it well when he said, “Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

So when you forge a nation with some strong puritan roots along with some marvelous practicality, such as the United States, sometimes you get pretty mixed up results. The prime example is our colossally counter-productive “War on Drugs,” now 50 years in the works. Read more »

My Cancer Patients

by Carol A Westbrook

When I finished my residency in 1980, I chose Medical Oncology as my specialty. I would treat patients with cancer.

I am often asked why I chose oncology. Many people fear cancer, and do not even like talking about it. How can you deal with all the pain and death,  I am asked.

My answer is straightforward–it’s the patients. I enjoy working with cancer patients. They are some of the bravest people you will ever meet. And they are honest. There are no malingerers in cancer. When a cancer patient complains about a stomachache, headache, nausea, or worsening pain, you can be sure it’s real. It is so gratifying to me, as a doctor, to provide a patient some relief, some hope, and even, sometimes, a cure. And they all have a story to tell, if you take the time to listen.

And we had the time, back in those days. Medicine was not as rushed as it is today, in the race to get patients through the clinic visit quickly, as it is today. The clinic visits were often a half hour or more, because we oncologists took over the role as their internists, managing their diabetes, hypertension, depression, and just about any other problem that today would get referred to their primary care physician or a specialist. Read more »