Biomedicine explains health in terms of biology. It emphasizes the importance of learning about body structure (anatomy) and body systems (physiology) in order to treat diseases and maintain health. The power of biomedicine comes from the belief that it is both universal and objective.  Anthropologists from the critical approach have demonstrated that biomedical knowledge is not simply a reflection of nature; it is culturally accepted and changed over time. The culture of biomedicine relates to the fact that biomedicine can be influenced by society and is not an objective science. It is one of the most influential cultural institutions in western society. That institution is made up of a system of dichotomies that are culturally constructed. Dichotomy means to be divided into two parts. In anthropology, dichotomy refers to the division between things like life and death or mind and body.

As the lecture says, and I agree, one of the most obvious dichotomies in biomedicine is the line between life and death. The concepts of life and death are very interesting and debatable. Where do you draw the line? In terms of life, the question is when does it begin? There are a number of different arguments that one can make, but to me there is no wrong answer. Personally, I believe life begins the minute a person is born out of the womb. It is hard to pinpoint where I constructed my views from, but I can say they were definitely influenced by my culture. When you celebrate your birthday, you are celebrating the day you were born or the day that your life began. Others may disagree, and say it happens before then or maybe even later in a person’s existence. On the other side of the coin is death. I believe you can pronounce someone dead when their brain and heart stop functioning and they can no longer breathe. Again, that is just my opinion and there is no wrong answer. Death can be perceived a number of different ways. Cultures throughout the world have different perception on death. I think the dichotomy of life and death is accepted in our culture because it is something every person experiences. Many have describes death as a natural part of life and I believe that to be true.


3 thoughts on “Life/Death

  1. The most important dichotomy in biomedicine in which for clinicians to understand is that of life/death. However, the ideas of when a person is living versus dead vary dramatically from one person to another. The biggest and most important reason for doctors to understand the difference between life and death is that of continuing to perform life saving rituals and continuing medications, life support, and knowing when they can no longer do anything to save the patient.

    If life versus death is taken for granted as fact, physicians can spend time more effectively used on another patient to continue trying to save someone that can not be saved. Also, it can lead to doctors not doing everything possible to save someone who is still living but just needs a little more time, support, or medication to survive.

    Another way to conceptualize this dichotomy is to see life starting at conception, or starting at the first heart beat of a fetus. Also, death can be conceptualized as when a person can no longer breath for their self, when the heart no longer wants to pump on its own, or when the brain is no longer working.

    These different views regarding life/death lead to different ideas about abortion, life support, and even change the rituals of biomedicine. Some people do not see life starting until birth and therefore do not see abortion as murder. Others, who believe life begins at conception when two cells become 4 then 8 then 16 and so on believe that abortion is murder no matter when it is performed.

    The most interesting part regarding this dichotomy is that it is always changing and each person can believe something different. This is continuously being evaluated and changed in our culture and in biomedicine.

  2. Very insightful and interesting summary of the dichotomy between life and death. I particularly liked the ambiguity that you added to the topic because I believe there can be no clear cut lines on this subject. Your view accommodates a myriad of opinions on this dichotomy and for this reason I believe it is very diplomatic and refreshing. I think it is important for clinicians to have a similarly open-minded approach to this particular dichotomy because in many cases, the definitions should be open to the interpretations of the patient’s and their families. In my opinion, it is not right for a clinician to tell a family that they must say goodbye to their family member because he or she has no brain activity, who are they to pronounce someone dead until their heart has officially stopped beating? I think this dichotomy is far complicated in our society due to all of the biotechnology and palliative care that we have access to. In other cultures this dichotomy may be more easily defined simply because they do not possess the means to prolong a person’s life or end a pregnancy outside the bounds of nature. Taking this dichotomy as fact by any definition leaves room for conflict between viewpoints to arise. I think a benefit of alternative medicine approaches is that conflicts over this dichotomy wouldn’t be as prevalent as in biomedicine. An alternative way to conceptualize this dichotomy is that life ends when an individual stops breathing on his or her own and life begins at conception. A potential drawback to this alternative approach is that it takes away control of the individual, eliminating the ability to prolong life medically as well as to terminate pregnancies. The only benefit I see is simplicity, but that is my opinion.

  3. The dichotomy of life and death is very important in today’s world. It is especially important for clinicians to understand because many important clinical decisions are made at both ends. In your post you mention how you believe life begins the moment a person exits the womb, yet others believe life begins from the moment sperm comes into contact with the egg and cells begin to divide. You also mention in your post you believe that death occurs when a person’s brain and heart stop functioning and they can no longer breathe. What about people that are kept breathing and have their heart being pumped through technological means? As you can see, a person’s view on what they consider to be life and death is a highly debatable topic and is most important to those making difficult life and death decisions, such as physicians.

    I feel as though there isn’t an alternative way to conceptualize this dichotomy. As I stated above, there are many different ways an individual can define life and death. The drawbacks to the life and death dichotomy are greater than the benefits. These drawbacks are best seen within the health care industry where politicians are constantly debating as when to declare someone as being alive and death in an effort to make policies, such as with the conflict on abortions.

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