W6: Our Flawed System

During the Vietnam War many people were sent over from the U.S. to battle, but what people typically do not know, is that the people actually battling most of the war were the Hmong. The CIA’s secret army of 30,000 Hmong guerrillas fought most of the battles for the ridges of Northeastern Laos and by the end of the war Laos was the most heavily bombed nation (Young, 2002). As you may already assume, many Hmong families were displaced after the terrible bombings and became refuges, forced to live in refugee camps. Since 1975, the United States has accepted more than 110,000 Laotian highlanders as refugees, the vast majority of whom are Hmong (Pfaff, 1995).

As you might imagine these people, whom were thrown into a completely different environment than their traditional villages, had to face and overcome many barriers. Social, linguistic, religious, and cultural barriers are among the most devastating. Some may say, the Hmong’s biggest challenge in the U.S. is a tragic encounter between Hmong “culture” and (U.S. medical) “science”, rightfully so (PDF 6.1).

After reading The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman, it is clear that this statement is very true. The U.S. biomedical model is unfortunately flawed, in that it has trouble including people’s spiritual and cultural desires. For example, Lia’s condition was viewed very differently by her parents than it was the doctors. The parents saw Lia’s seizures as “soul loss” episodes, while the doctors viewed it as epilepsy. To the American doctors, this was an easy fix, medicine, lots of medicine. But, to Lia’s parents, that was not the answer; the answer was herbal remedies performed by a shaman. As you know this brought many problems to the table for both uncompromising parties, but most importantly, Lia. Lia ended up brain dead. Her life was ruined not by septic shock or noncompliant parents but by cross-cultural misunderstanding (Fadiman 1997: 262).

American Healthcare has not failed the Hmong solely based on Lia’s unfortunate outcome; they have failed due to the lack of compassion for other cultures. Our healthcare system must integrate others beliefs and cultures into the biomedical model. Healthcare experiences for refugees who arrive in the United States after living in refugee camps must be acknowledged. For example, Lia’s parents, whom did not know any English, could not read any prescription bottles, and could not read the time on a clock, should have been taught or given help to do so (PDF 6.1). It is not the refuges choice that they are being forced out of their home countries; it is our duty to welcome them into our home and make it as comfortable as possible for them. In order to establish an efficient healthcare system to meet the needs of all people, including refugees, we must make this change. We must reassure the refugees, like the Hmong, that they will be treated like the rest of the patients in America. We must use translators and teachers during the treatment of others.

Young, Marilyn B. “Google Books.” Google Books. 2002. Accessed August 10, 2016. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en.

Pfaff, Tim. “ERIC – Hmong in America. Journey from a Secret War., 1995.” ERIC – Hmong in America. Journey from a Secret War., 1995. 1995. Accessed August 10, 2016. http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED404424.

Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997. Anthropology 370. MSU. Web. 10 Aug. 2016.

2 thoughts on “W6: Our Flawed System

  1. I definitely agree that our health care system here in America has its flaws in showing compassion as you said towards others cultural traditions. When it comes to healthcare we tend to believe that science and medicine trumps everything else without taking into consideration a person’s religious or spiritual beliefs on health. In Lia’s case I agree that she had a terrible outcome simply because of the cross cultural misunderstanding. I can understand the situation in doctors believing that the medicine was the best thing to help her but then again they should have been more understanding and more respectful of how the parents wanted to treat their daughter based on their usual traditions and beliefs. I don’t think it is right for America to force their medical decisions on a person, especially one who practices a completely different culture than we do here in the U.S. The best way to go about it would have been to state their opinion of what they feel is best then let the parents have the ultimate say so. I also think the use of translators and teachers in healthcare settings in America for refugees and immigrants would be a great thing to put in to place as well.

  2. I agree with your suggestion that our American healthcare system must integrate others beliefs and cultures into our biomedical model. However, I don’t think that other cultures have been failed because of a lack of compassion. Doctors tend to be very compassionate people, which is why they have gone through many years of schooling in order to help others. While I believe doctors have the patients best interest in mind, they may not be the best suited for dealing with people of different cultures. Physicians are taught a wide range of ways to diagnose and treat illnesses, but they all follow the same western biomedical model. It would be hard for a physician to be responsible for learning the alternative treatments specific to different cultures. But it would be beneficial to have a hospital employee that has the sole responsibility of bridging the gap between cultures. If a physician is not familiar with the patient’s background or culture, they could consult this employee and use their suggestions when coming up with a treatment plan. Physicians are used to consulting others for advice so this would not be something new to them, it would be east to implement and it would benefit the patient immensely.

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