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Michael Cohen: Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Michael Cohen's Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion

Summary:  Author, Yoga instructor, energy medicine aficionado, blogger and Harvard Medical School faculty member Michael Cohen has been guiding clinicians, educators, hospitals and  diverse professional associations through the maze of restrictions and potentialities for integration for a dozen years. In his most recent book, Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion, Cohen is a tour-guide through diverse zoo-scapes in our deliciously murky, regulatory-cosmological transitional world of healing, faith and medicine.
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ImageMust a writer have a great range of experiences if he or she wishes to synthesize a great diversity of ideas and impulses?  If so, Michael Cohen is well equipped for the important role he has played for a dozen years as a writer on integrative medicine.

Cohen's background includes a Masters in Fine Arts degree, a law degree, a stint as a Wall Street lawyer, years of Yoga practice, exploration of negotiation theory and how it relates to health and prolific production of peer-reviewed articles. He has founded an institute on energy medicine and held joint appointments at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. Cohen is currently based in the Bahamas where he
serves on the faculty of an offshore law school from which he consults, teaches and produces his Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog.

Cohen first impressed himself on me when over a decade ago when he was already hitting predominantly conventional medical audiences with the flip side of their concerns about potential liabilities they might face through integration of complementary therapies or practitioners. Cohen first handles their questions. Then he turns the question: Might it one day be a form of malpractice to fail to refer for effective complementary or alternative therapies? Heads nod from those who believe that a shifting of the therapeutic order toward less harmful agents, when appropriate, is long overdue. Cohen raises the possibility that fear of malpractice might one day promote additional integration.

Image
Michael Cohen, MFA, JD
Cohen's command of legal issues has always given him a perch from which to roam into more esoteric healing terrain. In his 5th and most recent book, Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion, Cohen walks that frontier adeptly. Here Cohen makes clear that a simple evidence-based medicine approach will not suffice as the only metric for human choices. He recognizes that motivations and healing influences which are often located in zones less measurable or quantifiable.

Cohen considers the health freedom statutes in Minnesota, California and Rhode Island examples of an emerging regulatory environment which "shifts the focus from prohibiting access to therapies that lack a significant scientific evidence base to allowing access assuming proper disclosures are made." He goes on to note that these statues "express a different balancing of medical paternalism and patient autonomy than was previously found in licensing laws based exclusively in an antifraud rationale."

   
We relish the emerging
plurality then discover
the presently restrictive
legal and regulatory
interpretations and
statutes, strewn about
like land-mines from
a prior war.


In Healing at the Borderland (Uniersity of North Carolina Press) Cohen is a tour-guide through diverse zoo-scapes in our deliciously murky, transitional world of healing, faith and medicine. Cohen moves us along for a spell, reveling in the wildness of the social, intellectual and spiritual dimensions of this intersection known to many as integrative medicine. Then suddenly Cohen turns with his lawyer face on, and reminds us that there was, or may yet be, hell to pay on a given course. We relish the emerging plurality then discover the presently restrictive legal and regulatory interpretations and statutes, strewn about like land-mines from a prior war.
 
What is the guiding light here, and the guidance Cohen would offer? Cohen describes his core perspective toward the end of the book. He offers a fascinating note - that a former defendant in the Wilk vs the American Medical Association case was on the Institute of Medicine's CAM committee* - then a moment later he writes:
"The 'fixed star' in my own interest in complementary and integrative medicine has been the respect for pluralism and the individual's autonomous, empowered search for all dimensions of health and healing, including those at the borderland of medicine and religion."
I highly recommend this book for anyone who wishes to take a long breath and reflect widely and deeply on our journey in transitional, transformational and integrative care for ourselves, our healthcare system, and our planet. And for those of you who, like me, don't read books as often as you'd like, this 164 page (plus appendices) volume also offers enjoyable side-journeys into a couple of the key books you might have missed along the way.

* In the Wilk case, a decade-long battle, chiropractors proved, as Cohen writes, that "there was a conspiracy by the AMA to stamp out their profession."

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