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A Doctor for All Seasons - Becoming a Medical Heretic

Author // Ruth Lockshin

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A Doctor for All Seasons
Becoming a Medical Heretic
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Becoming a Medical Heretic

During the ’60s and ’70s, Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn began to refer to himself as a “medical heretic.” He later recalled how he got to be that way:

In the late 1960s, my patients returned to me with diseases that I had previously created. The first group had cancer of the thyroid gland, because, when I was trained as a pediatric resident, we all used X-ray therapy to treat tonsillitis. This led to tens of thousands of cases of thyroid cancer.

“Another group of patients had permanently yellow-green stained teeth from tetracycline given for the treatment of acne.


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“And when I was a medical student at the University of Chicago, I participated in experiments where we gave women the female sex hormone diethylstilbestrol (DES) to prevent miscarriages. DES didn’t prevent miscarriages, but it created a generation of sons and daughters with tumors and malformations of the reproductive organs...

“When I first noticed these connections, I thought perhaps that was all past history. Doctors must have learned from their mistakes…

“But, when I look today at diagnostic ultrasound, immunizations, environmental pollution, amniocentesis, hospital deliveries, allergy treatment, and practically everything else in medicine, it is obvious that doctors haven’t changed at all. They are simply making a different, new set of mistakes.” (From Dissent in Medicine, by Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn)

Even before scientists like Bruce Lipton demonstrated the importance of a baby’s epigenetic connection with his mother, Dr. Mendelsohn was well aware of the physiological importance of a mother’s baby being with her as soon as possible after birth. Here’s a story of Dr. Mendelsohn’s utter respect for what is physiologically best for the mother and baby:

I like mothers and fathers to stay with their children while they’re in the hospital. In one of the hospitals I worked in, parents could stay with the child only if he or she was on the critical list. So I would put all of the kids on the critical list! They left me alone on that for a long time—until the showdown. The visiting hours were supposed to end at 7:30 every evening. One mother called me and said her child was crying but that he would stop crying and go to sleep by 8:30 if only she could stay with him until 8:30. I told her to go up to his room and stay. Then the nurse called me and said that this woman has to leave because the child wasn’t critical and visiting hours were over. I asked her what she would do if the mother decided to stay. She said she’d call the supervisor. I called the supervisor and asked her the same question. She said she’d call the hospital administrator. The administrator called me and I asked him what he planned to do. He said he’d have a police guard come and escort the woman out of the hospital. I asked him to do me a favor and hold off for fifteen minutes so I could see what I could do. He figured I was a nice guy and would take care of it for him, so he agreed. I called up a local TV newsman—an activist—and told him I had a mother who was about to be thrown out of the hospital because she wanted to stay with her crying child for an extra hour until he went to sleep. He asked me to hold them off for twenty minutes so he could rush cameras to the scene. I said I’d see what I could do, and I’d get back to him. Then I called up the administrator and asked him to hold off for just twenty minutes more because the TV camera crew was on the way to film the policeman escorting the woman out of the hospital. The administrator said, “All right, Bob, you win. You call off your dogs, and I’ll call off mine. But tomorrow I want to see you in my office.” Next morning I went to his office and he told me he could throw me off the staff for doing what I did. I told him I knew that, but that I also knew that he wasn’t going to do it. Because if he did I would go right to the newspaper and make the biggest fuss he’d ever seen. He said that was right. And he made a deal with me: “Your patients’ visitors can stay as long as they want, but nobody else’s. I don’t want you to bring this up with the rest of the staff.” (From Confessions of a Medical Heretic, by Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn)

Dr. Mendelsohn heralded advice in his books and lectures that would reinstate the confidence lacking in parents of his time. The premises that form the basis of his advice, as detailed in How to Raise A Healthy Child…In Spite of Your Doctor, are as follows:

  • At least 95 percent of the ailments that children are prey to will heal themselves and do not require medical attention.

  • Too often, the risk of careless or needless medical intervention is greater than the dangers of the illness itself.

  • Pediatricians spend most of their time treating parental distress. The child rarely needs treatment but gets it anyway and is subjected to the consequences, and it is the parent who gets the relief. That’s because most doctors believe that parents demand, or at least expect, that they will do something for the child. What concerned parents really need is reassurance, and what their kids don’t need is treatment when they aren’t really sick. Most doctors won’t take the time to provide meaningful parental reassurance; it is quicker and easier to write a prescription for the child.

  • Mother Nature, mothers, grandmothers—yes, even fathers and grandfathers—are the best doctors around, because they do not share the typical doctor’s compulsion to interfere with the body’s efforts and ability to heal itself.

  • At least 90 percent of the drugs prescribed by pediatricians are unnecessary and a costly risk to the child who takes them. All drugs are toxic and thus dangerous, per se. Beyond that, excessive childhood use of prescription drugs may generate the belief that there is “a pill for every ill.” This may lead the child to seek chemical solutions to emotional problems later in life.

  • At least 90 percent of children’s surgery is unnecessary, needlessly exposing the patient to the risks of death from the surgery itself, from anesthesia, or from infections contracted in the hospital, which is an inescapably germridden environment.

  • Most pediatricians have received little or no education covering the fundamentals of nutrition and pharmacology, and no emphasis is placed on these vital subjects in medical school. Their patients suffer because of the pediatrician’s ignorance of the impact of diet on health and of the hazards and side effects of the drugs he prescribes.

  • Parents need to learn when to call a doctor, and what they can do, without a doctor’s intervention, to reinforce the body’s ability to heal itself.


Suggested Reading

  • Confessions of a Medical Heretic, by Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn, published by Contemporary Books, Inc., 1979

  • Male Practice: How Doctors Manipulate Women, by Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn, published by Contemporary Books, Inc., 1981

  • How to Raise a Healthy Child…In Spite of Your Doctor, by Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn, published by Contemporary Books, Inc., 1984

  • Dissent in Medicine…Nine Doctors Speak Out, by Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn, published by Contemporary Books, Inc., 1985

  • A Good Birth, a Safe Birth: Choosing and Having the Childbirth Experience You Want, by Roberta Scaer and Diana Korte, published by Harvard Common Press, 1992

  • Dr. Mendelsohn has also recommended books by Angela Kilmartin (about some common women’s health issues) and books by midwife Ina May Gaskin about birth.



Pathways Issue 52 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #52.

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