By Kerry and Laura Gately
(The authors of this article are both Christians by confession and medical doctors by profession. They are members of the East Memphis church in Tennessee. I became acquainted with them during a meeting there. We discussed the issues of this article, and I requested that they share their insights with the readers of this paper. You may want to see that young people are exposed to this material. – Larry Ray Hafley.)
As we have advanced in our medical education, my wife and I have become impressed with the changing direction of medical practice. In earlier times, medical diagnosis and therapy were directed toward diseases caused by infectious agents, such as bacteria or more recently, viruses. As a result, scourges such as polio, smallpox, and tuberculosis, which terrified and decimated previous generations, have been brought to heel by advances in sanitation, vaccination, and antibiotics. Indeed, in 1979, the World Health Organization declared that smallpox had been eradicated from the face of the earth. With the decline of infectious agents as causes of disease, however, we have witnessed the ascendency of what must be called illnesses of lifestyle more directly, morbidity usually due to an immoral or immoderate manner of living. Of course, these new illnesses alcohol related disease, smoking related disorders, venereal diseases, and their associated problems, to name a few, aren’t really new at all. They have assumed a novel and ominous significance as diseases people actually choose to have by ingesting substances and committing acts which will ultimately have deleterious effects on their bodies.
There can be no doubt that excessive alcohol consumption results in harm to the body, physically and mentally. In a 1971 Department of HEW statistic, 9 million men and women (7% of the population) were said to manifest the behavior of alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Men have a 5 to 1001o lifetime risk of becoming alcoholics; in women, the risk is 3 to 5%. Of adults admitted to medical and surgical services, some 15% use alcohol excessively. Suicide rates are 6 to 15% higher in alcoholics.
Alcohol is noxious to the brain cells; as a matter of fact, alcohol is second only to Alzheimer’s disease (a disorder of unknown cause which gradually leads to degeneration of the brain) as a cause of mental deterioration. Alcohol damages the heart and other muscles; it irritates the stomach and can lead to gastric ulcers and hemorrhage. Liver function is disrupted by alcohol, and prolonged usage leads to destruction of large portions of this vital organ (cirrhosis of the liver.)
The use of tobacco is nothing but a plague upon our society. Large studies in several countries have shown that smoking men, considered as a group, have 30 to 80% higher death rates than nonsmokers. Smoking is responsible for an estimated 325,000 premature deaths yearly. Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), characterized by partial or complete obliteration of the arteries supplying blood to the heart, is a major malady related to smoking. The risk of having fatal or nonfatal CHD is 60 to 70% greater in smokers than nonsmokers. In the 35-54 year-old male age group, sudden death to a heart attack caused by CHD is two to three times more likely than in a comparable nonsmoking group. More Americans die from lung cancer than from any other type tumor (105,000 in 1981). Of these, approximately 80% were attributable to smoking. In 1980, 50,000 deaths were caused by lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema; 70% of these deaths were attributable to smoking. These impressive figures speak for themselves. These deaths represent not a dreaded infectious virus striking indiscriminately but a deadly conscious choice on the part of the smoker to poison his body.
Cancer of the cervix (the mouth of the womb) is the fourth most common malignancy of women some 2% of all women over 40 will develop this disorder. Although the causes of cervical cancer are unknown, commencement of sexual activity at an early age and sexual relationships with multiple partners are considered strong risk factors; indeed, the distribution of cervical cancer resembles that of the venereal diseases-.- Also -considered a risk factor for developing cervical cancer is infection with Herpes Simplex 11 virus, commonly referred to as “Herpes”. This sexually transmitted virus gives rise to a painful and sometimes debilitating disease characterized by the formation of multiple small blisters on the genitalia. These blisters break down and frequently ulcerate or become infected. Even after the initial attack resolves, sufferers are subject to identical but less severe recurrent episodes, sometimes as often as every 3 to 4 weeks. There is no cure. The number of persons afflicted by this virus has increased significantly in the past several years.
Women with syphilis and other less common sexually transmitted diseases run a significantly increased risk of developing cancer of the vulva, a dreadful disease worked by a slow, painful, inexorably declining course unless radical and disfiguring surgery is timely performed.
Many more such diseases could be discussed with their cold, dreary statistics. As my wife and I have spent long nights in emergency rooms and intensive care units watching smokers with advanced lung disease gasping and struggling for their final breaths and standing by helplessly as chronic alcoholics lapse into coma and death, poisoned by body products the wasted liver can no longer detoxify – it has been made exceedingly clear to us that behind every statistical tally there is a person – a suffering dying person. Those who engage in excessive drinking, smoking, and immoral lifestyles do so (often by their own admission) to help them deal with the cares, stresses and loneliness of life. We are truly fortunate, brethren, to have a loving Father who tells us to cast all our cares upon Him (1 Pet. 5:7) and to have anxiety about nothing, but “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). Even though we may feel the pangs of loneliness from time to time, we have our brethren and the promise of our Lord that He is with us always “even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). Not only does the Lord help us with our trials more than any drug or immorality ever could, we don’t destroy our bodies in turning to Him. May we always be faithful to Him who by His love and laws preserves our spiritual and our physical health!
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 15, pp. 455-456
August 2, 1984