Biomedicine by the eyes of Lynn Payer Review on the book “Medicine and Culture” (summary)

© 2012 Yu.A. Isaeva

_______________________________________________________________

Key words: comparative research, philosophical reflexion, medical anthropology, philosophy of medicine, biomedicine, social and cultural context

Abstract: The article represents a review of the book “Medicine and Culture: Varieties of Treatment in the United States, England, West Germany, and France” by American researcher and journalist Lynn Payer. The review’s author makes parallels with the works of other researchers from the sphere of the philosophy of medicine, sets apart the main ideas of the work and describes the book’s main advantages.

_______________________________________________________________

What is really interesting about “Medicine and Culture: Varieties of Treatment in the United States, England, West Germany, and France” by Lynn Payer is concord of comparative study within medical anthropology and philosophical reflection. As an anthropologist, L.Payer picked up a great deal about the culture determinants and the value systems underlying the practice of biomedicine in four countries. As a philosopher, she links German concern for the heart to a lingering romanticism and claims French medicine, especially psychiatry, reflects the country’s Cartesian habit of thought. As a journalist, L.Payer does not pay much attention to evidencing the arguments discovering the philosophical underpinnings of biomedicine. But still, despite our last remark, “Medicine and Culture” contributes much to the knowledge of medical anthropology.

It is a widespread opinion that ethnomedicine is determined by value judgments rooted in national character and priorities. According to “The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception” by M. Foucault biomedicine tend to create universal model of human Body independent of the culture determinants and is based  on scientific criteria. The most impressive thing is that a lot of doctors and patients really believe the model exists. L. Payer`s research concurs with Foucault`s idea in some way but she claims the universal model doesn’t exist in practice.

Perhaps impossibility of the universal model in practice is a result of “lost in translation” problem. Biomedical model is based on knowledge produced by autopsy or experiments carried out on animals. In this case our perception of body ignores social and cultural context. But then it should be adapted to practice where we deal with human beings full of suffering, pain, fear, stereotypes, social and cultural patterns. That is the reason why patient is in the focus of L. Payer`s attention. She considers in some cases patient is the one who can make a decision on the way of treatment.

In Russia medical anthropology is terra incognita. In some sense we are “new – field – hunters” wondering new scientific strategies and approaches. As a significant investigation within medical anthropology, “Medicine and Culture: Varieties of Treatment in the United States, England, West Germany, and France” by Lynn Payer give us much to learn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *