W5 Reflection: Life and Death

This week we discussed what biomedicine was and some of the issues associated with the use of biomedicine.  Biomedicine explains health in terms of biology. In other words, it uses scientific explanations for all things medical. It is used to treat disease and maintain health but it has a couple claims that aren’t necessarily true. First biomedicine claims that its an universal form of treatment, and secondly, that its independent from cultural context or human influence. These claims are not 100% true because culture has a huge impact on health, illness, and healing. Not all people are the same, and therefore treatment and cause of illness may vary. Therefore, in addition to the biological functions that are deemed necessary for healing, cultural aspects are also important and may be required for a person to completely heal. Its important that people realize the biomedicine is indeed culturally constructed and will change over time as the world and its contents change. Many changes and advancements made through biomedicine are a reflection of Western medicine, and do not account for those will varying cultures.

My opinion about dichotomies are that they are created to address differences between two things, but as the same time, I feel that they disregard many other factors including cultural factors, that actually blur the definition of those subjects making the difference less apparent.  I think they came from social stigmas, or were deemed “normal” behaviors because this the way most people did it, because they learned from one another.  For this example, I chose to discuss further the dichotomy life and death. By dictionary definition or from a biological/biomedical standpoint,  people may be able to differentiate life and death, but due to personal beliefs or cultural differences, that fine line between life and death becomes more important. I feel this dichotomy is accepted as logical/natural/true in western society because the most common form of life and death, the literal and over-generalized form of birth and burial, are common and often celebrated events. They are thought as the timeline of life and are natural events. It is assumed that everyone should be born into this world and taken out in the same way. Western society does a good job of hiding the other conditions of life and death and anything outside the “norm” is considered taboo and often cause political and social outburst.  I remember last year there was a story about a young girl in California who has a tonsillectomy, and ended up in a coma. The doctors declared her “brain dead” so insisted that her family allow her to peacefully pass away. Her family did not believe this to be true based off their own perspectives. They fought for the right to keep this young girl alive long enough to prove that she wasn’t dead. There was conflict, law suits, and differences in opinion. The question is, who is right? Who has the right to make that call? The doctor because they are educated in the medical and science field and due to the biomedical culture that would declare this young girl dead? Or would the parents be correct because they felt in their hearts there were signs of life and that she didn’t deserve to be let go of yet? I think this is where that fine line between life and death and the issues of biomedicine appear.   As time went on, there were supposedly signs of life in the young girl and then the question of personal culture and their influence on healing come in handy and would have an important role in the decision making. I do not think that the aspects of biomedicine would be enough to make that type of decision.

3 thoughts on “W5 Reflection: Life and Death

  1. Hey Jessica!
    I really like the example you have in your post about the young girl and I think these situations come up all the time (I’ve even experienced one myself). The line between life and death is something that we all cant define because we don’t know what it is like to be dead. My grandfather went through a surgery for his heart and he never was able to fully recover (the complications of the surgery took a toll but the funny thing is his heart was working fine). He was on life support and the doctors said at that point, he was “as good as dead”. I considered him to be alive, but the money and medication and state of health he was in said otherwise. We finally decided to take him off life support and he was declared deceased. It is super important that clinicians and doctors understand this divide between life and death because if there was a hopeful chance that the girl with the tonsillectomy or my grandfather could come back from the point of no return, then it would be in everyones best interest to try, right? It is really difficult to find a cut and dry definition because the future of a patient is unknown, thus trying to find the best definition is all we can do.

  2. Hey Jessica!
    I really liked your opinion about dichotomies and how many of them disregard factors such as culture, and how they can actually blur the definition of subjects and subsequently make the subject less apparent. I agree with Emmen’s comment about life and death because we don’t know what it’s like to be dead. There have also been many cases in medical history that may contradict this dichotomy. An example of this is Terri Schiavo. Yes, according to what it means to be alive, which I would interpret as a beating heart and the ability to breath, whether on a ventilator or naturally, she was alive. But was she really “alive?” She was 100% brain dead and the debate on whether to pull the plug or not sparked a huge controversy, and they subsequently pulled the plug. That is an example of why it is so important for clinicians should understand this particular dichotomy. They need to know whether someone is dead or alive, and it will subsequently influence their medical decisions. This also provides some implications if they take it as fact. In the end, they need to be able to determine the living status of a person, and if they make bad decisions, bad things can happen. Overall, I liked your opinions and examples in relation to the dichotomy that you chose.

  3. The argument of who does choose life or death with these patients has been around forever and gets more difficult for everyone involved as time goes on. The laws involved are so across the board from state law to the rights of the patient offered by the federal government. Then there are the lawsuits that come from family to the medical facilities and medical staff involved in the decisions to other family members who made the decisions. As for the young female you refer to in your post this is a prime example of the issues when it comes to these situations. The older the person, the better the chance that there is a life plan made up for family members to follow, but when there isn’t one the decisions usually fall upon an unprepared, unsuspecting family member who does have a clue what to do. Also they don’t want to deal with it, who would want to willingly make these decisions, answer no one. The need for a family to all agree with the path to take is the hardest and in this day and age unfortunately the money issue becomes a large factor in the game.
    I enjoyed your post, thanks for the good read.

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