Intended for healthcare professionals


Medicalisation: peering from inside medicine

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 13 April 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:866

Professionals and lay people should work together to a common purpose

  1. Leonard Leibovici, professor (,
  2. Michel Lièvre, professor (
  1. Department of Medicine, Beilinson Campus, Rabin Medical Center, 49100 Petah-Tiqva, Israel
  2. Clinical Pharmacology Unit, BP 8071, Faculté RTH Laënnec, rue Guillaume Paradin, 69376 Lyon, Cedex 08, France

    Who benefits and who stands to lose from unnecessary medical procedures or from medicalisation of daily life events? When George Bernard Shaw's Cutler Walpole operates on Lady Gorran and extirpates her nuciform sac he gains not only 500 guineas but also reassurance never to be in doubt or at loss.1

    The medicalisation of life domains is assumed to benefit the medical establishment or the medical profession—by giving them power and control. It is an “appropriation” of pregnancy and childbirth,2 or of natural death.3 By defining the type A personality, mainstream medicine redefined a masculine behaviour that was once valued.4 Such redefinition is a thing of power. It is not difficult to read within Michel Foucault's lines that people who incarcerate others for “madness” gain power and control.5

    In a department of medicine or obstetrics, things look less simple. A 92 year old woman is admitted to a department of medicine because she refuses to eat and drink. She speaks little and peeps between the folds of the blanket. Her …

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