After the end of the semester, there’s a lot that I will be taking away from this class regarding the complex and intricate relationship between culture, health, and illness. The information that most stuck out to me throughout this class was how incorporating medical anthropology into biomedicine could greatly benefit everyone who seeks biomedical care, no matter their cultural background.
I think when medicine treats with just pharmaceutical drugs and doesn’t treat the person as a whole, but instead separates the mind and body in what’s termed the Cartesian Duality (Lecture 3.1), the medical professionals are only looking at the particular symptom(s). Not looking at the person’s culture/beliefs (Fadiman, 1997), the overall health of an individual, their lifestyle, their explanatory model highlighting how they view their illness (Kleinman, 1988), and the environment they live in, creates a very narrow view of the health issues that individuals deal with and I feel that, after listening to the lectures and doing all of the readings for this class, this isn’t an incredibly affective method of practicing medicine.
Furthermore, sometimes using pharmaceutical drugs isn’t necessary to fix a health problem. This was seen in Dr. Berga’s research. She found that women who were having issues with fertility were able to increase their ovulation by undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy (Epstein, 2007). By reducing stress, 7 out of 8 women were able to improve their overall fertility, and this was all done without the use of any pharmaceutical drugs. A similar study done at University of California Berkeley found similar results: when stress was decreased, fertility was improved due to Gonadotropin-Inhibitory Hormone, which “impedes procreation”, being lowered (Presti, 2009).
After reading Fadiman’s book, I have a greater understanding of just how narrow the biomedical practice is. Doctors in this book did not concern themselves with learning about the culture of their patient, Hmong child Lia Lee, but instead they diagnosed her illness and treated it with multiple pharmaceutical drugs. This proved to be ineffective at treating her illness, and in the end contributed to the sepsis that brought on her big seizure that permanently debilitated her. The ups and downs of Lia Lee’s life provide a very clear example of how ineffective biomedicine is when it’s fighting against the culture of the people it’s treating. If the culture of biomedicine and the cultures of the individuals it seeks to treat could be combined into a cooperative method of improving people’s health and treating their illnesses, who knows how much more effective practicing medicine could be and how many more positive outcomes could be achieved.
An article that I think would be a good addition to this course is “Cultural Aspects of Health and Illness Behavior in Hospitals” by Joseph and Elizabeth Ann Hartog because it discusses how culture can impact the way an illness is perceived and how an individual “will behave as a patient” (Hartog and Hartog, 1983). Furthermore, this article also discusses the difficulties that can occur between individuals of different cultures, such as language barriers. This is similar to the cultural road blocks that were discussed in Fadiman’s book. (Link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1011024/pdf/westjmed00196-0140.pdf)
Presti, Lilian. “Reduce stress, increase fertility.” Chicago Tribune (2009). Accessed August 16, 2016. http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/sns-health-stress-fertility-story.html