The Disappearance of “CURE” from Modern Medicine

September 30, 2016

Do medicines cure? Can medicine cure? Last week, I reported that Webster’s New World Medical Dictionary does not contain the words cure, cured, cures, nor incurable. I thought it was an exception.  I was wrong. It’s not an exception, it’s the rule.

I’ve done some further checking.  The words “cure” and “incurable” do not appear in The Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary, Ninth Edition, 2015. They do not appear in The Bantam Medical Dictionary, Sixth Edition, 2009.  “Cure” does not appear in Barron’s Dictionary of Medical Terms, Sixth Edition, 2013, although “incurable” is defined as “being such that a cure is impossible within the realm of known medical practice“. Medical Terminology for Dummies, Second Edition, does not contain the word “cure”.

I have already noted that “cure” is not defined and not in the index of most, if not all major medical references, including: Merck’s Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, Harrison’s Guide to Internal Medicine, and Lange’s Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment. In consistent fashion the DSM 5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not contain the word “cure” in the index. Cured is not defined for mental illness.

Seriously?  What is going on?  Cure is truly a forbidden four letter word in medicine. Why?
Today’s medical practice has serious challenges with the word cure.

There are cures, of course, and reference books like MERCK’s Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy occasionally refer to them as cures.  But much of the use of the word cure in MERCK, and other references, is inconsistent. “Cure” is not well defined in medicine.  A large number of the uses of the word ‘cure’ in MERCK are actually ‘incurable’ or ‘cannot be cured’. It is not scientifically possible to prove that a disease cannot be cured.

I have traced this back through many editions of MERCK. Even in the 1950s “cure” hardly appeared in MERCK, was not defined, and was not used consistently. I do not have resources farther back, except the original version of MERCK, where cures were commonly suggested, but as near as I can determine, never correctly. If you do have access to earlier versions of MERCK’s editions, I would appreciate your assistance to study this question.

It is interesting to take a simple illness: scurvy, for which the cure appears to be well known.  MERCK, Harrison’s, and Lange’s each contain entries for scurvy.  But all recommend treatments – and do not use the word cure.

Only one, MERCK, actually provides a cure – Harrison’s and Lange’s recommend a treatment that does not cure. According to the US FDA, you cannot claim a nutritional cure, for scurvy, or beriberi, unless you also “say how widespread such a disease is in the United States“. Cures are not defined by science, instead, they are “not defined” by politics.

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