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Art transforms into compassion

Book Review - Sharing of Thoughts

I am very disturbed after reading the book on Traditional Chinese Medicine : What's Acceptable For The Christian? by a priest living in Singapore.

After some serious thoughts, I decided to create this web page as a form of sharing of thoughts. Ultimately, the believers reserve their rights to make their own choice of healing.

To begin, let me share the kind words from A/Prof Goh Lee Gan.

"I share your concern. It is important not to mix medicine with religion as far as possible because they deal with different things. As to whether the book should be banned, there will be Christians who will point out the fallacies in the book."

Here are some extracts from the book and comments given by A/Prof Goh :

extract : * Taoist root in Chinese Medicine - Religious philosophies remain the foundation of Chinese medical science.

A/Prof Goh's comments : Taoism is a philosophy rather than a religion. It is also true that modern medicine is based on philosophy of good and bad so good and bad is not proprietary to only religions. For example, we say diet, exercise, and weight control is good for developing good health. I know that in the Bible there is dietary advice too to achieve good health. I don't know about exercise and weight control though -- I am not a religious scholar.

My view is that the author holds too narrow a view between TCM and Taoism. Religion and medicine share some common values. It is also true that one finds medicine concepts in the Bible. So does that mean that a non-Christian should not use the medicine concept. The answer is obvious. So the author may need to reconsider his stand or provide a rebuttal of the above observation. We can have a dialogue with him. At the end of the day, what we want is a deeper understanding of things -- including why is he holding a certain view and how does he respond to our views. In whichever plane, religion, logic, or medicine, there should be internal consistency and we can ask him to show us that before we accept or reject what he has said. If his views are incorrect, they will soon be exposed. (Follow-up action : We sought help from the publisher to have a dialogue session with the author, but without success.)

extract : * His advice is for Christians to avoid TCM treatment as it communicates their belief in the religious philosophies behind the diagnosis.

A/Prof Goh's comments : This is too narrow a thinking. TCM is medicine belonging to the Chinese as an ethnic group of people and the sum-total of it is admixture of what is good and not good for the health. Of course some of the exhortations will have moral implications as well. For example, to avoid sexually transmitted disease, one should be faithful (assuming the partner is faithful too) from the medical science sense because the risk of sexually transmitted disease increases with multiple partners. It is also a religious exhortation that one should not commit adultery. And we do not need to be doctors to understand the pain and suffering to the family when one of the spouse commits adultery -- is avoidance of adultery here -- medicine or religion. I would say both.

We can observe that because religion and medicine have in common the life and death of a person in the physical sense, what is good in medicine is also good morally and vice versa. And this is true of the Bible too. Hence, to hold a view that TCM has religious philosophy and therefore not acceptable to Christians is to take an artificially narrow view.

extract : * It was explained that acupuncture is like what we watch in Chinese sword-fighting movies where kungfu exponents perform the dian xue skill. Addressing the practice of acupuncture based purely on the religious philosophy behind it, believers must conclude that its efficacy has a demonic root. All said and done, he would not personally directs people to an acupuncturist, simply because the efficacy of the treatment is dubious.

A/Prof Goh's comments : Acupuncture is not a panacea (cure all). However, there is objective evidence that it works for chronic pain and there is scientific logic behind its use.

My Concerns

(1) Assuming the author's view is correct, i.e. the efficacy of acupuncture treatment is dubious. Does it imply that MOH has made the wrong decision to set up acupuncture units in local hospitals?

(2) If his views are biased and misleading, the book should be banned in order not to cause confusion and fears among the believers, and depriving some believers of an additional avenue of healing, and deterring some believers from becoming TCM practitioners and acupuncturists who could have saved many lives.

(3) Surely the foundation of TCM is not linked to Taoism and religious philosophies. If the author's views are correct, then NTU should stop teaching TCM? In 2005, a double degree in biological sciences and TCM was started by NTU in collaboration with Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.

Follow-up action : On 21 April 2006, I wrote to Minister of Health Mr Khaw Boon Wan to share my above concerns. His reply will be posted once it is received. No reply has been received from the Minister.

Post-event :

It was reported in The Sunday Times of 14 May 2006 that 50 doctors trained in Western medicine signed up for course in acupuncture offered by the Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The graduate diploma course, the first of its kind in English for Western-trained doctors, was launched by Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Senior Minister of State for Health. The course content was jointly developed by the TCM Practitioners Board and the Ministry of Health.

Interestingly, one General Practitioner made the following comments :

In cases where Western drugs only provide temporary relief, I hope that acupuncture can be a long-term solution for my patients."

Please click here to read my letter to ST Forum on the opening of Bao Zhong Tang TCM Centre at SGH.

Updated on 23 October 2007

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