The cultural meaning of biomedicine is an important concept because it consists of an institutional history of biomedicine, the language of biomedical facts and the rituals associated with biomedicine.

My personal views on this dichotomy are that it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.  I believe life begins when a baby can live outside its mother’s body when they are viable, but death is a more difficult concept to describe. Is a person still alive when they are in a vegetative state?  Hard to say, because if a machine is keeping their brain alive and they would “die” without it, it does not seem like they are alive.

This is logical because a person that cannot function independent of a machine is not alive in my opinion.  However, there are instances when a person will only need to be on a machine for a period of time and then be taken off of it.  It is quite a dilemma for many because if there is a chance of recovery then most people will consent to it.  My views come from my own experience of parents’ having been on life support.  Most people feel very strongly one way or another on this issue.  I have experienced both scenarios.  One time it helped and another it did not.  My view is that prolonging life and avoiding death makes sense if there is a reasonable chance for recovery. 

In our society I believe this is a true viewpoint from most people’s point of view except those who are against it under any circumstances and feel they want to die naturally.  As I have said my views come from my own experience with this, and I do not know if everyone feels this way but I do.

Choices about when a person has really died are very individually based.




So often in western culture, I feel like we fall into the problem of treating our customs and rituals as what should be “normal” and that anything outside of that is taboo or odd. Biomedicine is no different. Biomedicine is treated as the best way to solve illness and western culture is so quick to prescribe pharmaceuticals for issues instead of looking at alternatives. This can be seen clearly in how many M.D.s that we have in our country compared to D.O.s. Osteopathic medicine is still science based but it looks at the body more as a holistic unit, and works to make the body as a whole work, not just to fix problems in individual units. We as a culture very much buy into the culture of biomedicine. This can be seen with how many prescriptions drugs are available for so many things, and so many over the counter drugs for colds and coughs, when little things like that can honestly be taken care of with chicken noodle soup. Understanding this culture is important because it can help us not only understand some issues in our society, like drug abuse and hypochondria, but also help us understand how other cultures view us and our customs.


I think that the life/death dichotomy is very interesting. Mostly because I had never thought of it until now. I had always thought of the lines between life and death pretty clear, but the points brought up in the lectures made me think. I personally believe that human life begins when a fetus is to the point in development that they can live without the mother, but I respect that people may disagree. Death is a bit harder for me to define, and I think that’s a pretty normal thing. I think that humans are reluctant to declare something as dead because we don’t want to let go. That’s why we have people kept in vegetative states. I understand why people would want to keep their loved ones alive, but also there needs to be a point where it’s healthiest to let go.


1) The “culture of biomedicine” alludes to Western medicine as a microcosm of Western culture, embodying and reinforcing the values, ideology, hierarchy, kinship structures, and power dynamics of Western culture. For example, the arrangement of allopathic medical personnel reflects the classism and gender stratification that typify Western society. As such, biomedicine replicates gender relations and represents a quasi-family in the sense that physicians have historically been a male ‘father’ character while nurses were predominately a female ‘mother’ character’, with the former endowed with more prestige and entitlements. This concept is important since, despite operating on premises of objectivity, empiricism, and universal truth, theory and organizational structure in biomedicine reflects cultural attitudes.

For example, as cited in lecture, anthropologists adopt the view of a hospital as a “miniature city, where each ward is a different suburb with its own administration, bureaucracy, workers, security, and a fluid stream of patient citizens,” demonstrating how biomedicine is a subculture embedded within a larger cultural context (Karim, 2012).  Thus, it also epitomizes socioeconomic aspects of Western culture such as a capitalist, competitive spirit between practitioners and a market-driven fee-for-service paradigm, where a hospital is a for-profit enterprise. Furthermore, the “culture of biomedicine” is aptly named because it exemplifies culture-specific rites of passage. For example, a rite of transition is illustrated by the sequestration of the sick in a hospital, which could be interpreted as a trial of ordeal in the liminal period between illness and health. Furthermore, recitation of the Hippocratic Oath is a component of the rite of incorporation whereby medical students become endowed with the esteem and privilege of a doctor. Moreover, biomedicine is cultural in that health care delivery observes taboos and rituals, including pre-operative hand washing, instrument sterilization, and use of caps, masks, and ‘booties’ in the surgical theater, despite a deficiency in literature supporting that these last practices reduce risk of infection. As Quebbeman notes, these customs “function to define ‘us’ and differentiate and distance ‘us’ from ‘them’”.

2) In my opinion, the medication-enhancement dichotomy separates drugs that can fix, as in eradicating acute illness and reversing chronic, degenerative illness, from drugs that can improve quality of life, such as preemptive treatments that forestall disease development. I think my personal view comes from labels used in the cultural of biomedicine that divide treatments of emergency or ‘medical necessity’ from those that are ‘elective’ or ‘cosmetic’. Originally, this language was likely employed by insurance companies in defining therapies for which reimbursement is possible.

3) I think that the dichotomy of medication-enhancement has emerged due to the pharmaceutical innovations that have essentially enabled the institution of medicine not only to relieve suffering, but to extend life expectancy and healthy years. On the one hand, the germ theory gave rise to vaccinations against biological threats such as polio and smallpox, showcasing the near-miraculous potential of medicine to eliminate infectious disease. Because acute, epidemic disease declined, the medical community shifted efforts to treat non life-threatening conditions and to magnify health and human potential. For example, the inception of Viagra medicalized less-than-perfect sexual performance and represented a life enhancement for those with only occasional erectile dysfunction (Cohen, 2009). Similarly, Ritalin can be a “cognitive enhancer,” augmenting working memory capacity and productivity in healthy subjects (Cohen, 2009). Furthermore, statins are now prescribed to preempt heart attacks, representing a widening of the net where medicines are now designed to treat risk factors (Cohen, 2009).  Such developments have set the stage for the impression that medicine could not only produce ‘quick fix’, magic bullet cures, but also enhance health and longevity, generating a seemingly natural medication-enhancement dichotomy.


Cohen, A. (Editor). (2009). Pill Poppers[Documentary]. United Kingdom: BBC Horizon.

Karim, Taz. Medical Anthropology. Michigan State University. 3 August 2012.

Quebbeman, E.J. (1996). Rituals in the Operating Room: Are They Necessary? Infectious Diseases in Clinical Practice, 5(2): S68-S70.


When we talk about the culture of biomedicine, we are talking about the fact that while most people claim biomedicine is separate from culture and is universal to all people, it is actually heavily influenced by culture. From our lectures we learned that it is constantly influenced by culture, and changes over time with our culture (western culture). It also has a noticeable effect on western culture, as it help us determine what and how is an illness and how most medical situations should be handled. The examples of germ theory and antibiotics were mentioned to show of how it played an enormous part in changing our culture since both germ theory and antibiotics revolutionized the our knowledge of medicine and what was possible with modern science.

I like the dichotomy of life and death, because it is one that we usually consider to be concrete, when in reality the two can sometimes be hard to separate. In western society, we either view people as alive, or dead, but not somewhere in between. There are certain cases, such as when a person is declared brain dead, where even though we see the body as alive, we see the mind as dead, and thus some people see the person is dead while others consider this person to be alive. I am of the belief that if the person is no longer to control their actions, and they are not able to make thoughts or provide responses due to no brain activity, then they are dead. I also would put this standard to newborns, where if they can be shown to have brain activity, then they are alive. I think I have adopted this view because of my belief system, how I was taught to view life and death and my trust of modern biomedicine. As for this dichotomy being accepted in western society, I believe that this is fairly evident. The society see’s a person as alive and able to have some type if impact in the world or the people around them, or dead when they stop breathing and cease to live. They do not really think that there could be anything else rather than alive or dead. You are either alive or you’re not.

Healthy/Sick Dichotomy

What we mean by the culture of bio-medicine is that bio-medicine, while claiming to be free of cultural bias is actually a culturally influenced institution. In most cases, bio-medicine is associated with western culture, and is sometimes referred to as western medicine. It is important to realize that bio-medicine is culturally influenced because there have been many cases where bio-medicine is used as ‘proof’ to rationalize or justify one group or another’s action. The most prominent example of this is eugenics, which essentially legitimized racist beliefs by providing scientific ‘proof’ of inferiority.

I think that the difference between being healthy versus being sick from a biomedical standpoint is not always clear. Specifically, I believe that the pharmaceutical industry has pushed our medical system to prescribe more medication, whether or not medication is the best answer. The first example that pops into my mind is ADHD. I believe that ADHD and its corresponding medication to be over diagnosed and over-prescribed, respectively. I also do not agree with the way that children are targeted for ADHD medication, or with the way that parents can be led to believe that it will solve all their child’s school performance problems. While I’m sure some people actually need the medication and benefit from it, I think that ADHD for the most part is culture-bound.

I am not entirely sure where my beliefs on the dichotomy on being healthy versus being sick originated. While I believe that pharmaceuticals can be extremely useful, I dislike the way in which we jump to straight to prescriptions to solve all our problems. I believe that prescriptions should be used as a last resort, and that lifestyle changes should be the first attempt at improving health. In line with that train of thought, I believe that many of the variations in an individual’s health we consider to be a disease are caused by that individual’s lifestyle, and can be corrected with changes to their lifestyle. If a condition is caused by a person’s lifestyle and can be easily corrected by changes to their lifestyle, I do not see why that condition should be considered an illness or warrant a prescription medication. The problem with this ideal is that individuals are not always in control of their lifestyle or fully understand the cause-effect relationship between their lifestyle and their illness. Once again, I am not entirely sure where my personal views on this dichotomy originated.


Biomedicine was intended to be founded on objectivity and
universality.  However anthropologists
have determined that biomedical knowledge has been culturally constructed and
amended over time. The acceptance of germ theory, the mass production of antibiotics
and genetics, all have been influenced by culture. Culture has also reorganized
medical education in the U.S., as stated in lecture. The creation of local and
national medical societies is another example of the alteration of biomedicine.
The concept of culture influencing biomedicine is so important because, it
determines how we view and treat disease and interpret health as a whole. The
culture of biomedicine is what our health system has developed into and
continues to evolve in result of. Essentially, social factors, a large aspect
of culture, have a large effect on biomedicine.

I believe that certain dichotomies are essential in our
society. However, there are cases in which dichotomies have been used
incorrectly and unnecessarily. Valid dichotomies allow us to establish a norm
and have allowed us as a society to compare many aspects of life. Determining
things such as life and death are an essential use of dichotomies. My views on
dichotomies have come primarily from my environment. My family and education
are the main sources.

The dichotomy of male and female is an example of
dichotomies being correct while having numerous gray areas. Biologically
speaking, the dichotomy of male and female on the surface seems pretty clear
cut. Males have specific anatomical characteristics that are usually very
distinct from females. Hormonally, males and females differ greatly as well. In
the past, we have used the male and female dichotomy to assign gender roles. In
my opinion, this was an incorrect use of the dichotomy and many of these gender
roles have evolved greatly over time.  Physically, the dichotomy made sense with the
male gender being dominant in terms of strength, but where it fell short was in
mental ability. Females and males have the same ability, in terms of intelligence.
This has become apparent and realized more recently than some would care to


Biomedicine plays a huge role in our society.  Even though it is the norm for us it still has a culture of its own.  As seen in the lecture the cultural areas of biomedicine are- the institutional history of biomedicine, the language of biomedical facts and the rituals of biomedicine.  As we saw in the article this week about surgical room procedures, our culture is how the surgeon gets dressed and how the tools are used and taken out of the sterile packaging.   I think this is very important because it helps to make the patient feel safe.  Although this is the culture for us it make not be for other cultures.  As we have seen in earlier materials there are a lot of religious and spiritual rituals in other cultures.

The dichotomy I chose to talk about is life and death.  Most people would think those are two very straightforward topics but they are not.  There are many grey areas involved with life and death.  Depending on the person, life can be described very differently.  Some think that life begins at time of conception.  Others believe it is around 24 weeks in the womb or after the mother has given birth.  Death can be described in different ways also depending on the person.  Death can be when you take your last breath.  Death can also be if you are brain-dead or on life support.  I think that life begins at the time of conception and that death is when you take your last breath.  My views on life and death came from how I was raised religiously.

I think this dichotomy is accepted as logical because in our society everyone knows the difference between life and death, even if there are different views of when life starts and when death occurs.  It is seen as natural because everyone that is born is eventually going to die.  This is something everyone knows. It is a natural part of life.  This is seen as true because there is no in-between with life and death.  You are either dead or alive.

life and death

Life and Death

It is one of the few things, if
not the only thing that all people have in common; death.  We all must die, it is the cost of life and
there are no exceptions.  Given this and
the finality of this death is an important subject to study (even if some
people don’t want to because if makes them keenly aware of their own

Medical dichotomy: There is probably
no larger separation of anything in the world than the difference between an organism,
(any organism whether it is plant or animal) that is alive and the same organism
that is dead.  Given this light I tended
to disagree heavily with this week’s presentation more than those in the past. Death
is not qualitative death is quantitate. The cessation of life functions is absolute,
there is no gray area. As a society moves from primitive ignorance to that of
advanced science the ability to pinpoint the most absolute moment of life
cessation increases.  This has moved from
an ear on the chest to mirror under the nose to the modern use of brain
activity. But this is not changing the time of death or what death is; death is
the cessation of life. The ability for biomedicine to more accurately pinpoint
the absolute time of death or the ability to pull a victim back from  the “brink of death” did not change what
death is.

I think as western society accepts that there is
a difference between life and death is because the west is the most advance civilization
in human history and it got that why through logic. Death is the natural end of
life death is unavoidable, and although many people try to “heroically” stave
off death for a few days at the very end death is natural. Death is also absolute


In our culture, biomedicine plays a large part in western society. This is an important concept because it is considered the most legitimate form of medicine in our society and is of the greatest importance. The way that our society interprets illness plays large influence in the way that the sick are considered in western culture. For instance depression in our society is considered to be a negative and is something that needs to be taken care of right away, even though realistically there is no way for someone to get over depression like that. Western society presumes that when you put someone on medicine, it is going to instantly cure the problem and it will never be an issue again. In reality, that is not what the medicine does, though it does help some individuals, and there are large amounts of side effects that makes one think about whether or not being on an antidepressant is worth all the complications, for the mild relief from the depression. In other societies, depression may not even be considered to be bad thing, even normal, and seen as something that runs its course.

I consider dichotomy of medicine to be due to the advancements in medical knowledge. In times when there weren’t clinical trials and things weren’t for sure, people were taking medicine that they assumed worked, when in actuality they would not do anything for the individual, or could even have the potential to make them even more ill. It wasn’t until by chance advancements in medicine occurred and actual treatments were invented that could be backed with evidence and proof that it worked. Implications of this are they could just assume some sort of medicine or treatment works without testing it out as thoroughly as they should, resulting in side effects that could potentially play a large effect on an individual’s life.

The dichotomy I chose was looking at life/death, since I find it the most interesting and these things have very unclear, known boundaries and grey areas. At first glance, one assumes that there should just be life or death, but there are several in between areas. If an individual is being kept alive by machines, are they truly alive, or are they dead, with their body still living due to the help of machines? Or, another example of this, is when can we determine something a life; is it at the time of conception, after the first trimester, or at the point when a fetus has the ability to live on its own without any assistance from the mother? There is much debate and argument between individuals that are pro life and pro choice, though it is something that can’t be determined by politics, and it is something that no one can seem to agree on, though the medical community does have a definition for it. Society deems what is appropriate and what is the way it is, but when it comes to it affecting your life, your personal decisions and the closeness to the situation will determine the affect that will be there. Our views on dichotomies are formed from the environment we have grown up in and our dependent from our surroundings.

Life and Death

The meaning of “culture biomedicine “is how medicine is culturally influenced. In lecture 5 its talks about three cultural studies of biomedicine. First is the institutional history of biomedicine which means how medicine has evolved overtime. Second is the language of biomedical which is social values or ideologies of medicine. The last one is ritual of biomedicine which the daily lives of doctors or patients. Its important concept because helps doctors understand different variations of cultural diversity. A good example of this is book “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” which shows how a medical doctor not understanding another culture was very harmful.

My views on life and death came from many places like school, friends, family, doctors, and the media. I believe life begins when you are in your mother’s womb; your heart starts beating and when your brain can function. Talking about life reminds of the abortion debate and how some people believe having an abortion is taking a life. When it comes to death when your brain has no activity or heart completely stops I considered you deceased. Even though someone is on life support I still believe you are deceased because a machine is what is basically keeping you a live. I knew two people who were on life support but their family and friends considered them deceased. Life and death two concepts hard to make a definite definition because of the different views how it’s been debated upon at the government level.

Life and death is accepted as nature or true because inevitably it’s simple either you’re dead or alive.  It’s the cycle of life which cannot be ignored. But Life can  be prolonged if you take good care of your body.  It can be tied into in lecture 5.1 claim of universality which is direct reflection of nature and is the universal truth.