The gay men who presented with wrecked immune systems were pursuing a "live fast, die young " lifestyle, as they well knew. Common health sense would have put them, and others living as they did, on a rigid diet and fitness regimen to detoxify their bodies and rebuild the immune system. Instead, doctors invented a causality in which lifestyle is neutral to disease causality and to therapeutics. Why? Because conventional medicine defines sickness as conditions that respond to pharmaceutical and surgical procedures in the medical armamentarium. Patients are sidelined as spectators in the healing process managed by doctors. They are told that they can do nothing to escape the iron grip of scientifically confirmed disease agents.
In AIDS, this thinking leads to a therapy consisting of highly toxic drugs that attack the very immune cells whose rehabilitation is wanted. Some gay health advocates bitterly criticise this therapy as irrational. They claim that the proven formula for long term survival with HIV infection is medical and recreational drug detoxification, strict control of diet, and regular exercise. In a word, fitness. AIDS doctors, Armitage reports, disparage that wisdom as "irresponsible garbage". And well they should. Alternative therapy activates self-healing, it is cheap, it works and it is almost doctor-free. It also challenges the self-image of doctors as exclusive custodians of health and sickness. This threat to the identity, self and social, of conventional medicine provokes AIDS doctors to abuse patients who publicly scorn their ministrations.
The AIDS saga illustrates the crisis of contemporary health services. The crisis is expressed in the spiral of costs, in growing millions of doctor junkies, in the over-mastering complexity of health services, in endless litigation and in the need for health rights tribunals. The process is driven by anxiety of death harnessed to belief that doctors can somehow forestall death. Yet doctors invariably lose all their patients, while billions of people today thrive without benefit of doctors. "The AIDS Mirage" focuses contemporary medicine as but one of many ways of coping with human suffering. It is costly, it induces dependency, and in the case of AIDS, it is a 100% failure that fuels anger among patients. An alternative is alive and well at your local fitness centre.