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Too much medicine


... paid for by the manufacturers of Viagra suggest that 40% of men have ... he British rationing of Viagra suggests that there is 'good' impotence (mostly ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Too much medicine

Too much medicine?
  • Richard Smith
  • Editor BMJ

What I want to talk about
  • What is medicalisation?
  • Medicalisation of birth, death, and sexuality
  • What is normal? What is a disease?
  • Creating diseases disease mongering
  • Why does medicalisation matter?
  • What are the forces driving medicalisation?
  • How should we respond?

What is medicalisation?
  • Medicalisation is the process of defining an
    increasing number of lifes problems as medical

Medicalisation of birth
  • Caesarean section rates are rising consistently
    around the world
  • 90 of babies are delivered by caesarean section
    in some parts of Brazil
  • It has at some times and in some places been
    normal to give women giving birth a general
  • In Britain in the 30s upper class women were more
    likely to die in childbirth than poorer
    women--because of excessive intervention

Rise in caesarean sections
Why have Caesarean section rates risen?
  • Losing the skills needed for less dramatic
  • Medicolegal pressures
  • More involvement of doctors, less of midwives
  • Private practice
  • Not involving women in decision making

Medicalisation and demedicalisation of birth
  • When my first son was born in 1982 my wife had an
    enema, her pubic hair shaved, and the baby
    monitored (and would have had an episiotomy if
    she had not had an emergency Caesarean section)
  • When my daughter was born in 1991 all this had
  • There was no evidence that any of it works
  • Yet its still common practice in much of the
    world--for example, Spain and Taiwan

Why demedicalisation?
  • The womens movement
  • Organisations like the Natural Childbirth Trust
  • Evidence based medicine (evaluating the
    effectiveness of interventions)
  • Radical midwives

Medicalisation of death
(No Transcript)
Ivan Illich's critique of the medicalisation of
  • A loss of the capacity to accept death and
    suffering as meaningful aspects of life
  • A sense of being in a state of "total war"
    against death at all stages of the life cycle
  • A crippling of personal and family care, and a
    devaluing of traditional rituals surrounding
    dying and death
  • A form of social control in which a rejection of
    "patienthood" by dying or bereaved people is
    labelled as a form of deviance

Medicalisation of death
  • People want to die at home but mostly they die in
  • Increasingly everybody must have their chance in
    intensive care before being allowed to die
  • Palliative care started as a response to
    medicalisation of death but may now be part of
    the medicalisation process

Elements of a "good death" in modern Western
  • Pain-free death
  • Open acknowledgement of the imminence of death
  • Death at home, surrounded by family and friends
  • An "aware" death in which personal conflicts and
    unfinished business are resolved
  • Death as personal growth
  • Death according to personal preference and in a
    manner that resonates with the person's

Medicalisation of sexuality
  • A rich area for medicalisation because how do we
    know what is normal?
  • 19th century medicine saw too much sexual
    activity (particularly masturbation) as a
  • 21st century medicine is more likely to see too
    little sexual activity as a disease
  • Are you abnormal if you dont manage one mutual
    orgasm a night?

Male sexuality
  • Many men have sexual difficulties, but when are
    these best managed by doctors?
  • Advertisements paid for by the manufacturers of
    Viagra suggest that 40 of men have problems with
  • But its actually 3 of 40 year olds and 60 of
    70 year olds
  • he British rationing of Viagra suggests that
    there is good impotence (mostly physical) and
    bad impotence (mostly psychological)

Female sexual dysfunction a disease in the making
  • Researchers with close ties to drug companies are
    defining and classifying a new medical disorder
    at company sponsored meetings
  • The corporate sponsored definitions of "female
    sexual dysfunction" are being criticised as
    misleading and potentially dangerous
  • Commonly cited prevalence estimates, which
    indicate that 43 of women have "female sexual
    dysfunction," are described as exaggerated and
    are being questioned by leading researchers

Who is healthy?
  • Somebody who hasnt had enough diagnostic tests?

Who is normal?
  • Within two standard deviations of the mean (5
    abnormal on every test)
  • A level that carries no extra risk (we all have
    high cholesterol compared with Pacific islanders)
  • Beyond a point at which treatment does more good
    than harm (depends on effectiveness of treatment)
  • Politically or culturally aspired to

What is a disease?
  • We might think of a disease as like a
    species--something that exists in nature and is
    waiting to be discovered
  • In fact disease is a medical and social
    construct--and as such a very slippery concept
  • The BMJ conducted a survey on the web to identify
    "non-diseases"and found almost 200
  • To have your condition labelled as a disease may
    bring considerable benefit--both material
    (financial) and emotional
  • However, the diagnosis of a disease may also
    create problems you may be denied insurance, a
    mortgage, and employment
  • A diagnosis may also lead you to regard yourself
    as forever flawed and unable to "rise above" your

(No Transcript)
Disease mongering
  • Baldness losing hair may lead to panic and poor
    mental health Baldness See your doctor on the
    back of buses
  • Irritable bowel syndrome functional bowel
    problems are very common now there is a drug the
    disease is being marketed
  • Social phobia one million Australians may have
    this problem--now there is a drug
  • Osteoporosis thin bones are a risk factor for
    fractures, but at what point does osteoporosis
    become a disease?
  • Menopause is this natural ageing or something to
    be treated? Is it the mass drugging of women for
    the gratification of men? Treatment is harmful

Why might medicalisation be a problem?
  • People are treated when they are normal
  • Non-medical, perhaps traditional, ways of
    managing difficulties are devalued and even
  • We see ourselves as victims and perhaps fail to
    take action ourselves

Why might medicalisation be a problem?
  • All effective treatments have side effects
  • Political and social problems demand political
    and social solutions but may be treated medically
  • An increasing proportion of a countrys wealth is
    spent on health care
  • Doctors are oppressed by being under pressure to
    solve problems they cannot solve

Forces promoting medicalisation
  • Patients
  • The decay of cultural, particularly religious,
    ways of managing difficulties
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Doctors, particularly specialists

Forces promoting medicalisation
  • In Scotland, where I was born, death was seen as
    imminent. In Canada, where I trained, it was
    thought inevitable. In California, where I now
    live, its seen as optional.
  • Ian Morrison, former preseident of the Institute
    for the Future

Forces promoting medicalisation
  • "In a morbid society the belief prevails that
    defined and diagnosed ill-health is infinitely
    preferable to any other form of negative label or
    to no label at all. It is better than criminal or
    political deviance, better than laziness, better
    than self-chosen absence from work. More and more
    people subconsciously know that they are sick and
    tired of their jobs and of their leisure
    passivities, but they want to hear the lie that
    physical illness relieves them of social and
    political responsibilities.

Forces promoting medicalisation
  • " expanding medical establishment, faced
    with a healthier population of its own creation,
    is driven to medicating normal life events (such
    as the menopause), to converting risks into
    diseases, and to treating trivial complaints with
    fancy procedures. Doctors and 'consumers' alike
    are becoming locked within a fantasy that unites
    the creation of anxiety with gung-ho 'can-do,
    must- do' technological perfectibilism everyone
    has something wrong with them, everyone can be
  • Roy Porter

How to respond to medicalisation
  • Encourage debate and understanding of
  • Help people understand that diseases are
    medically and socially created
  • Help people understand the severe limitations and
    risks of medicine
  • Move away from using corporate funded information
    on medical conditions/ diseases

How to respond to medicalisation
  • Generate independent accessible materials on
    conditions and diseases Promote non-medical ways
    of responding to problems
  • Spread knowledge--for example, through the
  • Encourage self care

How to respond to medicalisation
  • Create more organisations like the Natural
    childbirth trust
  • Resist direct to consume advertising
  • Resist the constant growth in health budgets