Monday, February 13, 2012

The Subtle Ways "Medical" Turns Into "Moral"

Whitney Houston's death seems to have caused a discussion on the misuse of prescription medications for anxiety and similar disorders. I found this part of it very interesting:
Benzodiazepines, or “benzos” are highly addictive and should never be prescribed to someone with a history of addiction, said said Matt Eaken, director of admissions at the drug and alcohol rehab center Mountainside.


“A person struggling with anxiety shouldn’t just be taking an anti-anxiety medication, said Fred Keene, the clinic director at the drug rehabilitation center Mountainside. “They should be learning other skills to help them cope, such as talk or cognitive therapy or meditation.”
For some, it’s a quick escape from what is causing them to feel so deeply stressed about their lives.
“To learn to cope with life and anxiety, you have to put in real work,” said Eaken. “For some people, it’s easier to just take a pill.”
Bolding mine.

As I stated in the title of this post, medical problems turn into moral ones in subtle ways, and this is quite subtle. I have no problem with the message in the above quote, except for that bolded bit. It implies that the people who fail in controlling their addictions are not doing the real work, that they are lazy and simply go the easiest route.

That introduces a moral, non-medical dimension. Once we are comfortable with that dimension it has the tendency to leak into most things. It's most familiar these days in debates about obesity.

I find it very counter-productive in the medical context and especially so in the context of treating emotional and mental disturbances. Adding that moral disapproval is likely to make things worse, because if an addicted person cannot recover then perhaps she or he didn't work hard enough! Just took the easy way out. Deserved to fail, in fact, and should probably feel guilt now.

This is a tricky topic to write about because of course it's true that some people don't work very hard on their problems. It's also true that most of us would prefer a simple pill for all that ails us. Still, moving from those thoughts to a moral disapproval is pretty disturbing.

It reminds me of a story I read about the fish seeing one of them caught by an angler, struggling and squirming and fighting the embedded hook in its mouth. The other fish wonder why that stupid fish just doesn't swim away, wonder what's bothering it, even laugh at its weird behavior.

But that's because they cannot see the hook.