The term “culture of biomedicine” reminds us that while biomedicine positions itself as a purely objective and scientific form of healthcare, it still has culture and ritual of its own. For example, the education and training of biomedical doctors is a rite of passage, and we can examine how it follows a clear progression from ceremonious events of separation from society, transition, and finally, incorporation as new members of society. Like this week’s Quebbeman article explained, some traditions in Western operating rooms have little scientific basis. Standard precautions like wearing surgical masks and booties to cover shoes are revered as ensuring the lowest risk of infection, but research has shown that not wearing these protective garments has no significant influence on infection rates in surgical patients. Instead, rituals like this are steeped in the history of surgery and have remained purely out of tradition. Recognizing cultural aspects of biomedicine is crucial to evaluating the cost-effectiveness and success of our health care system.
The Western dichotomy between “healthy” and “sick” can often be an arbitrary division on what I consider to be a spectrum between the two states of being. This is especially true for cases of psychological illness. Our biomedical health system changes the definitions of psychiatric conditions to reflect current ideologies within society, rather than new scientific discoveries. Despite this subjective process, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DMV) neatly categorizes over 400 mental illnesses, so that the diagnoses of these have a seemingly logical and scientific basis. My concept of sickness is a pathological or chronic condition that impairs the body and/or mind’s ability to function. (For this blog post, I’m not going to get into the “body” and “mind” dichotomy!) I think that every person has the power to determine whether or not she is sick, and that a personal claim to illness legitimizes it. Health is when the body and mind are working efficiently and are sufficiently nurtured, but I also see it as a state without disease, or without disease taking a toll on one’s life. For instance, someone with diabetes who controls his condition with insulin might not define himself as sick. I think the dichotomy between health and illness is so starkly defined because of our medical system, where doctors have the ultimate authority of classing each patient as sick or healthy. Thus, the sensations of sickness are not legitimized without a diagnosis. In a society that prizes the restitution experience of illness, where a condition is diagnosed, then properly treated and cured, we accept and deepen the line between “healthy” and “sick”.