Critique of Contemporary Biomedical Health Care by Ivan Illich—Key Points

  • Modern improvements to medical care have not had an overall positive affect on society's health and very few diseases have been cured by contemporary practices.
  • Contemporary medicine does not have all the answers. In fact, it leads to unnecessary surgeries and an increased reliance on drugs that produce various side effects.
  • Modern medicine has transferred the power of diagnosis and treatment from patients to doctors, suggesting that doctors alone can cure illness and that health is a commodity.
  • The larger medical bureaucracy disempowers patients and demands medical supervision, leading to "a medicalization of life."
  • Patients are led to believe that they are always at risk and constantly in need of medical supervision, leading to interventions that can actually aggravate a patient's condition.
  • The medical bureaucracy prevents people from the experience of dealing with their pain, causing them to miss out on the insights that can be associated with pain.
  • The medical establishment has also redefined what we even understand to be pain, despite the fact that it is a socially constructed concept that varies between cultures.
  • Historically, people have used images to deal with pain and have considered pain to be an integral part of the human condition, regarded pain as cosmic and mythic and not individual and technical, and considered pain to be an experience of the soul
  • The introduction of painkillers in the 1850s eliminated the idea that there could be any good reason for people to "face the pain." We sacrifice some of our humanness when we don't face pain and suffering,
  • The invention of modern disease can be traced to the late 18th century when disease was approached with scientific rigor within the laboratory setting of hospitals. This worked to establish the authority of a doctor's role in society.
  • "The medicalization of death" is when the individual no longer has control over the experience of dying. Medicine turned death into something to be warded off.
  • Political factors affect health care. Our current healthcare infrastructure cannot keep up with the demand it has created and has rendered people unable to live with any kind of pain or discomfort.
  • Healthcare reform is flawed because it focuses on improving the health care system instead of decreasing reliance upon it. The current system, strongly shaped by class, does not allow people to gain confidence in their abilities to care for and heal themselves.
  • Governments can contribute to citizens' health by protecting environmental conditions that damage health, but ultimately individuals must acknowledge a personal responsibility for their own health care.