Naming the Subject

The designation "Biomedicine" as the name of the professional medicine of the West emphasizes the fact that this is a preeminently biological medicine. As such, it can be distinguished from the professional medicines of other cultures and, like them, its designation can be considered a proper noun and capitalized. The label Biomedicine was for these reasons conferred by Gaines and Hahn (1982, 1985) (after Engel, 1977) on what had variously been labeled "scientific medicine," "cosmopolitan medicine," "Western medicine," "allopathic medicine," and simply, "medicine" (Engel, 1980; Kleinman, 1980; Leslie, 1976; Mishler, 1981). "Medicine" as a label was particularly problematic: it effectively devalued the health care systems of other cultures as "non-medical," "ethnomed-ical," or merely "folk"—and thus inefficacious—systems based on "belief" rather than presumably certain medical "knowledge" (Good, 1994). The term "allopathic" is still often employed as it designates the biomedical tradition of working "against pathology," wherein the treatment is meant to oppose or attack the disease as directly as possible. In contrast, "homeopathic" derives from the Greek homoios—"similar or like treatment"—and pathos (suffering, disease). In this model, medicines produce symptoms similar to the illnesses that they are intended to treat. Today, the designation Biomedicine is employed as a useful shorthand more or less ubiquitously in medical anthropology and other fields (though often it is not capitalized) for this preeminently biological medicine.

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