Medicalization of Wellness

Medicalization is not limited to sickness and "deviance." Wellness—the avoidance of disease and illness, and the "improvement" of health—is today a widespread "virtue," notably among the middle classes. As part of modernity, practices designed to support individual health have been actively promoted for over a century, and are now widely followed. The individual body, separated from mind and society, is "managed" according to criteria elaborated in the biomedical sciences, and this activity becomes one form of self-expression. Body-esthetics are clearly the prime goal of some individuals (Sullivan, 2001), but a worry about the "risk" of becoming sick is at work for the majority. By taking personal responsibility for health, individuals display a desire for autonomy and in so doing they actively cooperate in the creation of "normal," healthy citizens, thus validating the dominant moral order (Crawford, 1984). Health is medicalized and commoditized.

As evidence is amassed to demonstrate conclusively how social inequity and discrimination of various kinds contribute massively to disease, ranging from infections to cancer, the idea of health as virtue appears increasingly out of place. Owing to poverty, large segments of the population in most countries of the world have shorter life expectancies and a greater burden of ill-health than do their compatriots. The pervasive value of individual responsibility for health enables governments to narrow their interests to economic development, while ignoring redistribution of wealth and the associated cost for those individuals who, no matter how virtuous they may be, are unable to thrive.

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