Medicine & Religion: Is confession a potent balm against major diseases in RP?

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Dr. Francisco Duque III, the secretary of the Department of Health (DOH) reportedly said a staggering 80% of Filipinos are suffering from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) “due to unhealthy lifestyle.” The doctor goes on to say that to combat cardiovascular illnesses, cancers, and diabetes, people have to go to church and make regular “confession.” I find his religious recommendation oddly misleading. It needs clarification.

“Among those considered as NCDs are cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes. Duque said the three are now among the major health problems in the country. Duque said one way to address this problem is for the people to go on regular confession.” I suggest that they go to church to pray and confess their sins because its one way of managing”—-GMANewTV.net (02/16/09)

It isn’t unusual to blame stress as a cause of sickness. Though stress goes with almost all diseases, its role is often indirect, sometimes obscure, in many organic diseases. As far as science is concerned, most illnesses have underlying pathogenetic bases whose roles are generally far-reaching than the effects of stress.

Heart diseases are related to high fat diet, sedentary lifestyle, and smoking. Diabetes mellitus may have an autoimmune basis but can come with risk factors like obesity, lack of exercise, and genetics. Certain cancers are triggered by stepwise mutations (alterations in the DNA) that generate clones of abnormal cells that invade, metastasize, and eventually kill the body. In all these, stress plays a role, albeit less strongly than what is suggested by Dr. Duque.

The act of confession (reconciliation) taught by certain religions is not shared by all believers. Confessing sins to a priest by the Catholics has markedly dwindled in recent years. Dr. Duque may encounter criticism and opposition in recommending the holy sacrament to prevent non-communicable diseases. There are non-faith based treatments in medicine which are more predictable and efficacious.

Stress is part of the normal challenges of daily living. Not all people who go through significant emotionally disruptive situations get ill in the process. Sick and healthy individuals, suffer from harrowing conditions in varying degrees. As such the roles of stress in every illness are hard to quantify; their effects on the body aren’t uniformly the same.

I believe emotion plus the working of the mind, and the entire body equilibrium are influenced by stress more than it affects specific organs of the body. It is probably the reason why religion, spirituality, a belief in the supernatural, exercise, meditation, and relaxation regimens have some roles to play in disease management. The mechanisms behind their healing properties aren’t fully understood.

Yet, medical science offers credible explanations in disease causation and treatment. Illnesses can be attributed to causes like direct physical injuries, infections, cancers, immunologic conditions, hormonal swings, metabolic derangements, nutritional deficiencies, hereditary disorders, chemical, drug and radiation exposures, poisonings, among others.

Stress is only one among the long list. Therefore, “confession” as Dr. Duque suggested may help in being healthy, preventing sickness, and going through an illness and subsequent recuperation. But surely, we need to account for greater ways to fight diseases more than what have been recommended by the standard and complementary approaches of medicine. This is important in the holistic way of maintaining the health of the nation.(Photo Credits: denislpaul; sacerdotal) =0=

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