Now I'm used to hearing buzzwords during infomercials, not that I watch a ton of infomercials but I've flipped one on from time to time. They are generally words like "carbs" or "abs" or "Cellulite" or "Set it, AND FORGET IT." Most carry a relatively harmless or even positive connotation. Cancer does not. After I heard "cancer" I tuned in my attention and started actually watching the infomercial. What I saw sent chills down my spine. At first it was just a woman doctor talking about how she'd cured herself of cancer through undisclosed natural means and the power of some dude named Jesus, who apparently rocks. I was hoping at this point that the infomercial was for God, since a lot of them are (apparently he's not doing so well and he's upped his marketing budget) and would tell me what ministry I could send some money to so god would like me despite the fact that I'm a sinner and I'm fat and I sometimes have inappropriate thoughts about Annette O'Toole circa 1980. It was not. The lady doctor continued to talk about curing herself from cancer and then the helpful host, who may have been the devil in an expensive suit or just a patsy in the sort of expensive suit the devil would wear were he to appear on an infomercial, started quizzing her about medicine. He wanted her to point out how pathetic modern medicine is at curing things like cancer or any other health ill in comparison to her system. She obliged. Then things started to get really wrong. He said "Everyone knows someone who cured themselves of cancer, but isn't everybody's body different?" I'm not sure if that was the exact phrasing, some of it was blurred by the sound of my jaw hitting the floor.
"No." she helpfully explained. Then she went into a schpiel about how if you go to the doctor with a pain in your shoulder he's not going to tell you that you have a ruptured spleen, which I suppose is true. It's also true that people with amputated arms often have similar symptoms, like finding that when they try to row a rowboat they go in circles and their piano skills drop off precipitously. It's also highly irrelevant. The truth is that people DO have different body chemistry and react differently to substances and treatment. Think blood type, think allergies. Penicillin is a life-saving drug but can kill people if their body reacts to it badly. Here's this woman on TV, though, telling people that you don't feel a shoulder pain with a ruptured spleen as if that proves that all our bodies are the same. Lest you think I am exaggerating she did say "We're all the same on the inside, we'd like to think we're different and special and we are in our minds and personalities and faces, but inside we're all the same." That's virtually verbatim. Now I'm no medical expert but I'm pretty sure I have a pair of testicles and she doesn't, while she has ovaries and I don't, and I have a heart while she doesn't, but none of that came up in her cheerful conversation. Until that moment I had been thinking this might be a commercial for legitimate homeopathic treatments, which do exist. I don't approve of them for cancer since most studies I've seen referenced show that conventional medicine is better, but some people swear by them and that's fine. I know a lot of people who say that acupuncture helps them a lot with their pain, and it's less invasive than surgery. On the other hand I've NEVER heard of a legitimate homeopathic healer claiming that everyone's body is the same and one treatment will work for everyone. They frequently take all sorts of strange, to me at least, measurements before prescribing treatment. They don't look out at literally dozens of infomercial viewers and tell them they're all the same.
This was the point where I got mad, but it wasn't done yet. Right after telling me that I had a vagina this woman went on to pitch her video. For only $29.99 she'll tell you why modern medicine sucks and how to heal yourself of all your ailments for absolutely no money other than the cost of food. I turned the TV off before the urge to put my foot through it became overwhelming (mine is a big TV and I would surely have hurt my foot more than it if I had kicked. Then I would have had a broken bone and had to spend $29.99 on a video telling me how to heal it.) So what these people were doing was preying on desperate cancer victims with false promises of a cure in order to extract money from them, possibly killing them by urging them to eschew normal medicine for quackery. And this was on television at 7:30 AM for anybody, weary from pain and woozy from painkillers, to flick on and be influenced by?
I'm not going to ask how the infomercial makers live with themselves. Maybe the woman actually believes her own bullshit, like some huckster televangelists do. Maybe the guy in the nice suit WAS Satan. I don't really care, they can go to hell. How does the station manager live with himself? How does he deal with the fact that to make a few more bucks, and it's not that many, he put on something that might actually kill people, and at the very least is designed to take the money of people with already crushing medical bills? How does anyone think this is okay?
This is the problem with capitalism. At some point the balance tips and money becomes more important than humans. At some point it makes sense to somebody to sell deadly lies for a decent mark up and nobody stops them. You may argue that people can decide what to buy or not to buy on their own, but what about cancer patients? Lonely, desperate, old, some of them delirious from disease or drugs. Can they really make rational decisions? Can we rely on them not to be hucked by hucksters?
Some might also argue that this is a reasonable price to pay for the benefits of capitalism. What if this woman really has discovered the secret to healthy living and has not an altruistic bone in her body, but will share it for $29.99. Is that really so much to pay to never be sick again? This is a harder argument to counter. In some ways the crackpots and the bullshit is a price we have to pay. Some of the "crackpots" DO turn out to have the next best thing in the palm of their hands. Remember that Federal Express started as a term paper that the professor called impractical.
There is a cost for the benefits we enjoy and experimentation by entrepreneurs is a necessity. That's fine for me when the cost is in dollars. You can print more of those. When the costs are in human lives, though, it's a different story. When car companies bank on making more from selling unsafe automobiles than they'd lose from the lawsuits and cigarette manufacturers repress the truth about their product because it might make the bottom line almost as sick as their customers are, well those are heavy costs to bear. Very heavy costs indeed.
What's the solution? I don't know if one exists. It's the price of doing business I guess. Regulation always comes with drawbacks, and if we leave things like medicine only in the hands of licensed professionals then we will be encouraging stagnation and possibly killing off millions by not giving a miracle cure a chance. If we let the crackpots run free then we will lose thousands to their crackpot ways. In the early days of this nation people died from being bled by doctors. These days it appears full body CT scans are the new leaches, an unnecessary procedure that can endanger a patient's health. Life is always going to be full of bullshit and tragedy. That's what makes it life and not the Happy Days TV show.
What we can do, however, is call out the charlatans when we see them peddling their wares, write angry letters, and rage against those who would turn pain and tragedy into profit at a cost to the victim, be they clad in a medical smock or the presidency. We can point to them and say "You are evil, you are wrong, we reject you and your vile ways. Prey upon someone else, you'll find no sucker here." Then, if we are young women over the age of 18, we can express our rage by taking our tops off and walking around the streets of New York. That's how we can start to set the wrong things right.