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The medicalization of life

That’s the title of an op-ed piece by Dr. Gilbert Welch of the Dartmouth Institute of Health Policy & Clinical Practice. Excerpts:

“Here’s a question that’s not being asked in the healthcare debate: How much medical care do we want in our lives? It’s something we should be discussing.

Start with the two life events we all experience, birth and death.

My profession has gotten pretty good at terrifying (and operating on) pregnant women during what should be one of the greatest experiences in life. And we are equally proficient at dragging the elderly through all sorts of misery on the road to death.

So the most fundamental life events — birth and death — increasingly involve more and more medical care. Why should you care about this increasing medicalization of birth and death?

Simple. Because it exemplifies the medicalization of life. Everyday experiences get turned into diseases, the definitions of what (and who) is normal get narrowed, and our ability to affect the course of normal aging get exaggerated. And we doctors feel increasingly compelled to look hard for things to be wrong in those who feel well.

Medicalization is the process of turning more people into patients. It encourages more of us to be anxious about our health and undermines our confidence in our own bodies. It leads people to have too much treatment — and some of them are harmed by it.

And it’s big part of the reason why medical care costs so much.

There are many areas in which medical care has a great deal to offer. But it has now gone well beyond them. There may have been a time when the words “Do everything possible” were indeed the right approach to medical care. But today, with so many more possibilities for intervention, that’s a strategy that is increasingly incompatible with a good life. We all need to be a little more skeptical and — to really be healthy — willing to ask “Why?”

Don’t just settle for my excerpts. Read the entire article.

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