Western medicine likes to take credit for increasing the lifespans of North Americans and Western Europeans in the past decade. It is true that our lifespans have increased greatly since the nineteenth century, when most of us only lived to be in our mid-forties or fifties. And that coincides with the widespread usage of pharmaceutical drugs and surgical techniques. There was also a noticeable decline in plagues during this time, which Western medicine also takes credit for.
Certainly, antibiotics were a miracle for many things (although we are paying a price for them now due to supergerms), but there was a man and an invention that paralleled Western medicine who really deserves the credit for increasing our lifespans and even reducing the plagues.
His name is Thomas Crapper. He is credited with inventing, or at least popularizing, the water closet, or flush toilet. The official Thomas Crapper Website says that Sir John Harington of England was the actual inventor in 1592. However, Crapper certainly played a big role in making it popular, and he did invent the modern bathroom showcase.
The widespread usage of flush toilets allowed Western Europeans and, later, North Americans, to maintain a safe distance from their own feces, which had a very beneficial effect on everyone's health. Many of the diseases suffered in the Third World are due to inadequate sanitation.
Here's another clue. In several Western countries, the death rates have decreased markedly during strikes held by medical doctors. What does this say?
I do believe that Western medicine (drugs, surgery) has it's place in our medical system. For myself and my wife, we consider it the last resort in healthcare. If our homeopathics, and changing our lifestyle/diet/exercise, and herbs and meditation don't help, then we should try drugs and surgery. But until then, we steer clear.