In December of 2009, cancer groups, like the RayFesta melanoma foundation, blasted comedian Rosie O’Donnell for comments she made about”¦the sun. News of the controversy made national headlines. The cancer group called O’Donnell’s comments “irresponsible” and “misinformed”. What was the quote that got her into trouble? This one:
“I live to tan”¦exposure to the sun isn’t dangerous”¦”
On the surface, it may be difficult to understand the controversy. Exposure to the sun is not only not intrinsically dangerous, it is essential to life. There is a reason so many early cultures worshipped the sun. It is the source of all life on our planet. Exposure to the sun allows humans to manufacture Vitamin D naturally. Vitamin D is essential to human health. Without it, our bones bend and fold and deform. In children, that’s called rickets. In the US, rickets was a major health catastrophe. What was one of the causes of the rickets epidemic? Lack of sun exposure.
Furthermore, while there is statistically a link between certain kinds of sun exposure and the incidence of melanoma in certain individuals, the specifics are actually in Ms. O’Donnell’s favor. An overview of scientific studies published in the International Journal of Cancer found that cancer risks were elevated in people who were sunburned either in childhood or adulthood. Interestingly, cancer risk was also elevated in individuals who experienced “intermittent exposure”. What was the one group mentioned who had “significantly reduced risk”? Those with “heavy occupational exposure”. In other words, people with tans.
On a deeper level, the outrage that these melanoma groups expressed at O’Donnell’s comments is a powerful reflection of the degree to which the process of “pathologication” has developed in the psyche of so many Americans.
Pathologication is a term I coined to describe the re-framing of normal biological phenomenae into abnormal, disease entities.
Childbirth used to be a normal, natural event. In the hands of medicine, it has been reduced to the excision of a tumor. In an interesting bit of history, it turns out that one of the primary causes of birth complications in 17th Century U.S. was deformed pelvises from rickets, a deficiency of Vitamin D due to”¦ lack of sun exposure.
In the case of melanoma, we have pathologication put to the extreme. Medicine is poorly equipped to posit deeper questions as to the causes of melanoma such as diet, lifestyle, overall constitution, and environmental pollutants. The paradigm of the medical model also tends to inadequately integrate the healing powers of the body into its paradigm of health. So what are we left with?
Blame the sun!
We have to ask how different this is from the medieval physicians blaming illness and disease on the movement of the planets and stars. Childbed fever, the scourge of Europe in the 1800’s, was believed to be caused by astrological or meterological phenomena. In fact, childbed fever, which killed thousands of mothers every year, was caused by doctors, who in the standard practice of the time went straight from the autopsy room to the delivery room without washing hands.
We can only hope that the process of pathologication will become so extreme and conspicuous that a revolt against the extremism of the medical paradigm will erupt and a more balanced approach to health will emerge; one which is based on the idea that health comes from within, and often so does illness; and that the solutions to many health problems lies in enhancing the health of the individual rather than finding an exterior cause to implicate and attack, such as a bacteria, virus, gene”¦or a star.