On Behalf of the Patient
In earlier times, physicians were powerless to alter the course of serious illness. Many of their remedies were of no value, and some caused serious harm. In spite of this, the medical profession enjoyed a privileged place. Doctors could often offer a rational explanation to account for symptoms, which, at the minimum, dispelled superstitious notions of illness, and they could provide empathetic care. When every serious disease was hopeless, patients could expect to receive a similar level of care irrespective of their particular malady. In recent times, public awareness has focused on the physician as a master of technical innovation. The emphasis on curative rather than palliative treatment has had the effect of shifting attention toward the treatment of acute illness, i. e., illness which responds to surgical or pharmacologic intervention. Not only is there no cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), but for patients with chronic diseases even access to care may be limited. Patients, in some cases, actually have to search for a physician who will take an interest in their care. The search may end with a general practitioner since some specialists make it known in one way or another that they are not interested in caring for the chronically ill. In despair, some patients give up entirely, and look to non-traditional care providers for advice and comfort.
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