Life/Death

The phrase “culture of biomedicine” refers to the focus Western medicine places on biology to treat diseases and maintain health. This practice of evidence-based medicine isn’t common to all areas around the world and medicine practiced in non-western cultures may hold different thoughts about the source of disease and managing illness. This suggests that the medical practices, the illness experience and how people seek treatment are culturally constructed. Therefore, this concept is essential in treating diseases and maintaining health because it gives us an insight into the patients beliefs and values and how to better care for them. Moreover, health outcomes are contingent upon these medical decisions as influenced by ones culture. Biomedicine as culturally constructed system is amended over time as called attention to in this weeks lecture. As a result, cultural studies of biomedicine include institutional history, language of biomedicine facts and rituals. The progression of biological facts and medicine has greatly shaped the culture of biomedicine. Reorganization of medical education, creation of local and national medical societies and professional control over hospitals were trends fashioned as events in our society impacted the way the human body and health are perceived. Social values and ideologies as well as rituals and symbols further expose cultures influences on biomedicine. For example, hospitals don’t only represent a symbol of protection, but an institution for learning or a factory producing efficient bodies. And its knowing these cultural aspects of biomedicine that gives us insight into the cultural background of a person allowing for treatments and better care provided by medical professionals.

Presently, the boundaries between life and death are blurred. There are many problems with defining death and who should be declared dead. Is a person without brain functioning dead? Is breathing with a ventilator and eating with a feeding tube an indicator of death? Ultimately, my belief is that if life support machines are the only things keeping a person alive than they should be declared dead. I think life and death is an accepted dichotomy in western society because it is something that everyone experiences and death is the natural progression of life. Personally, I feel that life and death are mutually exclusive, as well as coexisting. Life can’t occur at the same time as death, and you cant have life without death or death without life. Biomedicine is the dominant model of health in western societies built on the “body-as-a-machine” metaphor. That is thinking of our bodies as battery driven machines to conceptualize and explain the structure and workings of the body. As long as these machines are kept fueled they (our bodies) will continue to run efficiently, but as soon as the machine stops functioning fails (our bodies deteriorate resulting in death). Therefore, I think my approach to death and dying is highly influenced by Western societies perspectives on death.

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  1. Drew Selden says:

    I think it’s important for clinicians to fully understand the life/death dichotomy especially the death aspect of it. It’s important to understand the death part and what constitutes someone actually being dead. Is someone who is brain dead actually dead, or like you said if someone is only being kept alive because of the use of life support machines are they technically dead? It’s important for clinicians to distinguish between someone who has a chance at living and getting better while using life support machines and someone who has not gotten any better and are not showing any signs of recovery or someone in a coma that is showing no brain activity. I think knowing and understanding the differences among those patients would help guide the clinicians and the decisions they make while deciding how they are going to treat the patient or what the next step in the healing process should be or whether or not to ‘pull the plug.’ It’s very hard for clinicians to ultimately make the decision of whether or not a person is medically dead (on life support/coma/brain dead) because of the role that the patients family can play in that decision. Many families wouldn’t want to ‘plug to be pulled’ on their loved ones especially someone who is young or where there could be a chance of living.

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