W5 Reflection: Life/Death

The culture of biomedicine can be thought of as an institution within a culture, meaning that it has its own trials, rites of passage, and practices. As it is a cultural construct and is entirely defined by the society in which it exists, namely American society, it is a reflection of the societal definitions and works within a culture to advance ideas and beliefs. This is an important concept because it shows that biomedicine is not an entirely factual institution and can be swayed by the culture in which it exists and sway it in turn. Western culture holds biomedicine as a high authority and trusts physicians with major life decisions and problems. While these doctors do their best to save lives and cure ailments, they are operating within an institution that is under constant development and change from internal and external influences. An example of this is the Eugenics program in America, wherein medicine used socially constructed lines among ethnic groups into races, to control rates of population. This was accepted medical practice and was used to promote certain cultural and social beliefs.

The dichotomy of life/death is very interesting. As the definitions of both vary so greatly between cultural lines, knowing exactly when a being is alive versus when it’s dead can be tricky and morally gray. The definition of life in Western culture may be completely different than that of another. My personal belief that death comes when there is a prolonged lack of breathing, heartbeat, and brain activity, my definition is socially constructed due to my exposure to Western medicine. As Western medicine has improved, the definition of life has changed alongside it. While lack of breath may have once signified death, it is now believed that lack of brain activity means the end. The belief in Western medicine of the power and importance of the mind perhaps has something to do with the belief that having brain activity signals life, or perhaps the knowledge that it is possible to restart the heart and help a person breathe, but not give brain activity leads us to assume it is impossible to come back from that point.

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