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Criticism of medicine

Posted on:3/24/2006
Criticism of medicine has a long history. In the Middle Ages, some people did not consider it a profession suitable for Christians, as disease was often considered Godsent.



Criticism of medicine has a long history. In the Middle Ages, some people did not consider it a profession suitable for Christians, as disease was often considered Godsent. However many monastic orders, particularly the Benedictines, considered the care of the sick as their chief work of mercy. Barber-surgeons generally had a bad reputation that was not to improve until the development of academic surgery as a speciality of medicine, rather than an accessory field.

Through the course of the twentieth century, doctors focused increasingly on the technology that was enabling them to make dramatic improvements in patients' health. The ensuing development of a more mechanistic, detached practice, with the perception of an attendant loss of patient-focused care led to further criticisms. This issue started to reach collective professional consciousness in the 1970s and the profession had begun to respond by the 1980s and 1990s.

Perhaps the most devastating criticism of modern medicine came from Ivan Illich, in his 1976 work Medical Nemesis. In his view, modern medicine only medicalises disease, causing loss of health and wellness, while generally failing to restore health by eliminating disease. The human being thus becomes a lifelong patient. Other less radical philosophers have voiced similar views, but none were as virulent as Illich. (Another example can be found in Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman, 1992, which criticises overreliance on technological means in medicine.)

Criticism of modern medicine has led to some improvements in the curricula of medical schools, which now teach students systematically on medical ethics, holistic approaches to medicine, the biopsychosocial model and similar concepts.

The inability of modern medicine to properly address many common complaints continues to prompt many people to seek support from alternative medicine. Although most alternative approaches lack scientific validation, some report improvement of symptoms after obtaining alternative therapies. The bioscience medical paradigm and the alternative / complementary healthcare paradigms may differ to such an extent that what constitutes scientific evidence is contested. Many medical doctors also practice alternative medicine alongside the orthodox.

Medical errors are also the focus of many complaints and negative coverage. Practitioners of human factors engineering believe that there is much that medicine may usefully gain by emulating concepts in aviation safety, where it was long ago realized that it is dangerous to place too much responsibility on one "superhuman" individual and expect him or her not to make errors. Reporting systems and checking mechanisms are becoming more common in identifying sources of error and improving practice.

Radical critics of certain medical traditions may hold that whole fields or traditions of medicine are intrinsically harmful or ineffective. They would reject any use or support of practices belonging to that tradition. However, generally, there is spectrum of efficacy on which all traditions lie; some are more effective, some are less effective, but nearly all contain some harmful practices and some effective ones. Naturally, though, most individuals or groups seeking a healthcare practice to improve their own health would seek a tradition with the maximum degree of efficacy.


 


  
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