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To what extent has the 'Biomedical Model' been challenged by recent developments in the thinking about the body, health and medicine.

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To what extent has the 'Biomedical Model' been challenged by recent developments in the thinking about the body, health and medicine. The most dominant paradigm view in Modern Western medicine of health illness held by many official health practitioners such as doctors, consultants, and surgeons has been labelled the 'biomedical approach' or by some as the 'medical model'. Throughout the history of Western science, the development of biology has gone hand in hand with that of medicine. Biomedicine was born in the age of scientific revolution of the 17th century however this view did not gain prominence in Britain until the 19th century. The biomedical model assumes that bacteria, a faulty gene, a virus or an accident such as falling down the stairs causes an illness. Furthermore that illness is the result of an identifiable cause. Conversely it is not the result of an evil spirit or curse. Illness can be identified and classified into different types for example diseases of the nervous system, respiratory diseases and chronic diseases. This whole process of identifying and classifying is viewed as that of an objective nature that has created very little disagreement amongst the medical profession.


Most of Foucault's ideas were presented in Birth of the Clinic (1963), which was a treatise on the rise of the biomedical model. One major criticism of Foucault's work is that it mainly describes the development of the model in France rather than Britain. A further criticism of Foucault is that he concentrated on language or 'discourse' as the main way in which medical establishments gained dominance. For Foucault, knowledge was power. His critics saw him as too 'discourse deterministic' (Turner 1984)1 meaning that not all power comes through being able to dominate language. Foucault claimed discourse led to power through the creation of new terms to describe the body and its conditions. The language can be seen as alien to many 'lay' people creating 'scientific discourse' and superiority. Mckeown(1976), a professor of social medicine, demonstrated with the use of historical demographic studies that the decline in mortality which has occurred within Western societies has had more to do with the improvement of nutrition, hygiene and patterns of reproduction rather than vaccinations created by biomedicine2 Illich (1976) claims that those in the medical profession have a vested interest in ensuring there is plenty of disease. They do this by claiming health issues are medical problems.


Patients are able to evaluate the advice given by health professionals and perhaps seek for second opinions. In Britain, there has been a growth in popularity of 'alternative' medicines and therapies and recognition ironically of a certain public disenchantment with orthodox medicine provided by biomedicine. Many medical practitioners prefer the term 'complementary' medicines to emphasise that they do not necessarily claim to treat all disorders and that they can accept a legitimate role for biomedicine. In general, these therapies are based upon naturalistic theories of health and disease, which are claimed to be holistic, which treat the body as a whole entity. Two of the most institutionalised 'alternative'/'complementary' medicines are osteopathy and chiropractic. This rise can be seen due to this holistic approach to the body. Alternative practitioners are seen to be generally able to offer patients more time, in opposition to the busy doctor who may not stop to discuss problems in detail. In conclusion, although the biomedical model has been criticised and challenged, it still does not change the fact that it is still the most predominate approach to health. It has been argued by Virilio and Fukuyama that the biomedical has developed in new directions to coincide with the rise of the 'transplant-revolution' for example genetic cloning. This can be seen as the beginning of the 'bio-medical science' model.

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