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Natural Causes

An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer

By Barbara Ehrenreich
12-minute read
Audio available
Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich

Natural Causes (2018) reveals the truth behind the medical world’s encouragement of common procedures, treatments and screenings. It scrutinizes why Western society is averse to aging and obsessed with exercising, and, along the way, explores the effects of modernity on our mental capabilities.

  • People over the age of 60
  • Those interested in the social influence of modern medicine
  • People who spend a lot of time concerned about their health

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of the New York Times best-selling Nickel and Dimed, which is an exposé of low-paying jobs in America. She also holds a PhD in cellular immunology.

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Natural Causes

An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer

By Barbara Ehrenreich
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich
Synopsis

Natural Causes (2018) reveals the truth behind the medical world’s encouragement of common procedures, treatments and screenings. It scrutinizes why Western society is averse to aging and obsessed with exercising, and, along the way, explores the effects of modernity on our mental capabilities.

Key idea 1 of 7

Doctors continue screening elderly patients for one reason: profit.

The author, Barbara Ehrenreich, is 76 and, in recent years, she’s stopped getting regular medical check-ups. Many people – especially those in their 70s – might think this is irresponsible behavior. Despite having health insurance, she no longer undergoes smear tests, cancer screenings or yearly exams.

So why has she thrown caution to the wind? Well, Ehrenreich believes that, after the age of 75, getting medically tested doesn’t make sense.

She would rather use her time doing enjoyable things, rather than going in for time-consuming tests, waiting anxiously for the results and possibly having to consider medical interventions.

For instance, she stopped getting mammogram screenings, a medical test that checks for signs of breast cancer. Ehrenreich made this decision after she got a false-positive test result that made her anxious for weeks – so anxious, in fact, that she also got pulled over and ticketed for “distracted driving.”

In Ehrenreich’s view, once you’ve entered the late stages of life, it’s best to let nature run its course. Making dramatic lifestyle changes to accommodate medical treatment, be it surgery or chemotherapy, might simply no longer be worth it.

Now, Ehrenreich stopped going in for mammograms around the age of 70, so imagine her surprise when she learned, while at a medical meeting, that a 100-year-old woman was still being screened. Why, Ehrenreich wondered – are women over the age of 75 still getting mammograms?

Well, according to Ehrenreich, the main reason is pretty simple: medical screenings and tests profit doctors.

To make financial gains, the health sector provides examinations that will inevitably show the possibility of a complication or necessitate a follow-up appointment. This is made possible with new, high-resolution equipment, such as CT scans, which assess head injuries and detect tumors. Better technology that is able to detect abnormalities leads to more tests, which in turn leads to more prescriptions and further visits to the doctor. All of these steps accumulate to increase the overall profit of the health industry.

In the author’s view, doctors don’t only target the elderly with potentially unnecessary examinations; new parents are also vulnerable to unnecessary interventions. Let’s move on to the business of childbirth.

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