Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Editor's Choice

Learning for life

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 02 February 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:0-f

Rapid Response:

The problem of consciousness

EDITOR--- The editorial in this week's BMJ (1) is asking how much our
moral values influence clinical decisions. Seen from a holistic
perspective, the human being is much more than his body. Mind has psychic
dimensions difficult to measure and turn into science, especially the
soul, the spiritual level of man, that is normally acknowledged to be a
wordless domain of our existence. Unfortunately, consciousness is a soul-thing. The place within our self, where we take the final judgment of our
life values and major decisions in life, is hidden, unpredictable, and un-material (2).

Consciousness is the source of our being and the way we deal with our
own consciousness often become our destiny, also concerned with our
physical and mental health. The Danish existential philosopher Søren
Kierkegaard (3) recommended to always make the most arduous and difficult
choice, when confronted with a choice of something easy or something

The physician (usually the family physician) will often be the person
discussing these life-forming decisions with the patient. Unfortunately,
the modern physician is so absorbed in his own profession that it can be
very difficult to understand how it is to be a truck driver, a cleaner, or
a shopkeeper. Often the physician is not really taking the hardest of
alternatives himself in his own personal life.

So the person that the patient is most likely to entrust his or her
life to might be the person least able to give the inspiriting advice of
seeking the challenge and running the risk. In life the real emotional
risk is too lose yourself. To put you own existence to the test. To go
beyond your own limits. To upgrade your attitudes and personal belief
system. This is the game of consciousness in which every physician should
be involved for the sake of his or her patients. This is what creates the
real, full and rich life. And this is also what creates health and
prevents diseases according to our research from the Copenhagen
Prospective Birth Cohort (4).

How can medical students be taught this? Well, it is not too
complicated. In the recently published first and second volumes of our new
book series "Principles of Holistic Medicine" (5,6), we have dealt
explicitly with the philosophy of life needed for being able to handle
these difficult aspects of medicine.

Philosophy can be read and understood, and it can be taught at
medical school. Allow us to recommend that all medical students get such


Søren Ventegodt, MD, is a general practitioner and the director of
the Quality of Life Research Center in Copenhagen, Denmark.
E-mail: Website:

Mohammed Morad, MD, is a family physician, the medical director of a
large area clinic in the city of Beer-Sheva, Israel. E-mail:

Joav Merrick, MD, DMSc is professor of child health and human
development, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development and the medical director of the Division for Mental
Retardation, Ministry of Social Affairs, Jerusalem, Israel.
E-mail: Website:


1. Godlee F. Learning for life. BMJ 2006;332:0-f.

2. Ventegodt S, Flensborg-Madsen T, Andersen NJ, Merrick J. The life
mission theory VII. Theory of existential (Antonovsky) coherence: A theory
of quality of life, health and ability for use in holistic medicine.
ScientificWorldJournal 2005;5:377-89.

3. Eremita V, ed. Enten-Eller. Et Livs-Fragment [Either-Or: A
fragment of life]. Copenhagen: CA Reitzel, 1843. [Danish]

4. Ventegodt S, Flensborg-Madsen T, Andersen NJ, Nielsen M, Mohammed
M, Merrick J. Global quality of life (QOL), health and ability are
primarily determined by our consciousness. Research findings from Denmark
1991-2004. Social Indicator Research 2005;71:87-122.

5. Ventegodt S, Kandel I, Merrick J. Principles of holistic medicine.
Philosophy behind quality of life. Victoria, BC: Trafford, 2005, 228

6. Ventegodt S, Kandel I, Merrick J. Principles of holistic medicine.
Quality of life and health. New York: Hippocrates Sci Publ, 2005, 378

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

03 February 2006
Søren Ventegodt
Medical director
Mohammed Morad and Joav Merrick
Quality of Life Research Center in Copenhagen, Teglgårdstræde 4-8, DK-1452 Copenhagen K, Denmark.