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Iatrogenic Death

By Kenneth E. Loy, Jr., CN

Have you lost control of your health and fitness? Have you made it someone else's responsibility to keep you healthy? Do you depend entirely on a process where you become ill through poor diet and lack of exercise and then turn to prescribed medications to make you feel better? Iatrogenic death, according to Webster, means, "induced unintentionally by the medical treatment of a physician." This category would also include mistakes made in surgery and hospital care by doctors and nurses. Iatrogenic deaths are estimated to be at least 225,000 per year, placing it as the number three cause of death in America. Shouldn't you be taking responsibility and doing whatever it takes to achieve optimum health and fitness? Excluding accidents, all of the other top ten causes of death in the United States are caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices.

Over two million people die in America every year. According to the National Vital Statistics Reports, 2,337,256 Americans died in 1998 (NVSR. Vol. 48, No. 11. July 24, 2000). They also report the ten leading causes of death in the United States. The table below summarizes the last three years.

Top 10 Causes of Death in the United States

Cause of Death




Heart disease












Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease




















Kidney disease




Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis




Total of All Deaths




Besides accidents, which kill less than 100,000 Americans each year, the remaining deaths are caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices. We are literally digging our graves with our teeth! If every American made a simple change in diet and lifestyle, the list above would greatly diminish.

Instead of making this change, we make an appointment with the doctor when we experience uncomfortable symptoms. The doctor, who is not required to take a nutrition class in college, prescribes drugs to help alleviate our symptoms. Whether the drugs lessen the symptoms or not, at least one side-effect is likely to occur. The Physicians Desk Reference contains over 3,000 pages of adverse reactions--including death--that may result in patients that take these drugs.

Often, a patient may enter the hospital with symptoms of heart disease and actually die of pneumonia. The medication given to that patient may cause the elimination organs to become so clogged that the lungs fill up with fluid and drown the patient. Notice the upward trend in deaths caused by pneumonia. As Americans begin to rely more and more on drugs instead of sensible nutrition, these numbers will continue to rise.

Even the American Medical Association's own medical journal admits that over 106,000 Americans die each year from reactions to prescription drugs. Dr. C. Everett Koop, former U.S. Surgeon General, confirmed that over 2,000,000 people are hospitalized from the side-effects as well.

Prescription-drug-related deaths fall under the category of iatrogenic deaths. Iatrogenic, according to Webster, means, "induced unintentionally by the medical treatment of a physician." This category would also include mistakes made in surgery and hospital care by doctors and nurses. Iatrogenic deaths are estimated to be at least 225,000 per year, placing it as the number three cause of death in America.

Dr. Barbara Starfield of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland wrote an article for the July 26, 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), volume 284, no. 4. She entitled her article, "Doctors and Their Drugs Could be the Number One Cause of Death in America, Causing Almost 500,000 Deaths Every Year." She listed the following categories of iatrogenic deaths:

  • 12,000 deaths/year from unnecessary surgery
  • 7,000 deaths/year from medication errors in hospitals
  • 20,000 deaths/year from other errors in hospitals
  • 80,000 deaths/year from infections in hospitals
  • 106,000 deaths/year from non-error, adverse effects of medication

Dr. Starfield notes, "These total to 225,000 deaths per year from iatrogenic causes. Three caveats should be noted. First, most of the data are derived from studies in hospitalized patients. Second, these estimates are for deaths only and do not include adverse effects that are associated with disability or discomfort. Third, the estimates of death due to error are lower than those in the IOM [Institute of Medicine] report. If the higher estimates are used, the deaths due to iatrogenic causes would range from 230,000 to 284,000. In any case, 225,000 deaths per year constitutes the third leading cause of death in the United States, after deaths from heart disease and cancer."

She further states, "One analysis overcomes some of these limitations by estimating adverse effects in outpatient care and including adverse effects other than death. It concluded that between 4% and 18% of consecutive patients experience adverse effects in outpatient settings, with 116 million extra physician visits, 77 million extra prescriptions, 17 million emergency department visits, 8 million hospitalizations, 3 million long-term admissions, 199,000 additional deaths, and $77 billion in extra costs."

Using Dr. Starfield's numbers on additional deaths and the IOM's higher estimates, deaths due to iatrogenic causes range from 429,000 to 483,000 per year. That is very close to the number of people who die from cancer. Incidentally, many cancer patients actually die from the chemotherapy and radiation treatments rather than the cancer itself. God simply did not design our body to be healed by drugs. They are toxic to our system! If we eat His way, our miraculous bodies that are "fearfully and wonderfully made" will heal themselves.

Top 10 Causes of Death in the US in 1998

The point to be taken from these statistics is that our health is our own responsibility. Our doctor is not infallible. He should merely be a coach to us after we have done our own research. Ask questions. Many more alternatives than drugs or surgery exist for most ailments. Get a second opinion. Judging from the thousands of deaths from medical mistakes each year, we owe it to ourselves to be well informed. Dr. Bernard Jensen often says, "It is better to educate than to medicate."

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