Biomedicine and Medicalization

In the Western context, and in the United States specifically, biomedicine has assumed the role of the dominant health system (Singer & Baer, 1995). By focusing on the modes of biomedical production, anthropologists can look at the ways in which capitalism has been resisted or transformed by the individual participants (Morgan, 1987). Foster and Anderson (1978) define biomedicine as an ethno-medical system which has both its genesis and its sustenance within Western political, economic, and ideological institution. It is variously called cosmopolitan medicine, capitalist medicine, Western medicine, and urban medicine. Importantly, Foster and Anderson (1978) point out that biomedicine is an ethno-medical system, just like curanderismo in Latin America, Ayurveda in India, and Qi-based systems in China. Biomedically informed health providers blame the victim. Indeed, in capitalist medicine (Navarro, 1986) the system is rarely implicated, while the worker is further burdened. Among migrant agricultural workers in the United States, public health researchers conclude that the way to alleviate cancer among this population is to provide cancer screening clinics (Lantz, Dupuis, Reding, Kerauska & Lappe, 1994) instead of enforcing the occupational safety laws already in place.

In an effort to emulate the capitalist world and its institutions, non-Western governments may further the causes of Westernization. In the Egyptian experience, this has allowed pharmaceutical companies access to human subjects for drug testing, such as Norplant (Morsy, 1993). In the Indian example, the state policy of controlling overpopulation, a Western definition (Sowell, 1983) espoused by elite Indians, led to the forced sterilization of several thousand men during the 1977 emergency. The memory still haunts the Indian rural populous today and makes them wary of government-sponsored health intervention programs (Banerji, 1982).

Given biomedicine's historical influences, its spread has definite implications for the negotiation of health care both within and outside the industrialized world.

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