Medicalizing the human condition

Waltham, MA -- Over the past half-century, the social terrain of health and illness has been transformed. What were once considered normal human events and common human problemsbirth, aging, menopause, alcoholism, and obesityare now considered medical conditions. For better or worse, medicine increasingly permeates daily life.

Building on more than three decades of research in a new book, Brandeis University sociologist Peter Conrad explores the changing forces driving the medicalization of society through case studies of short stature, shyness, "male menopause," erectile dysfunction, adult ADHD, and sexual orientation.

In The Medicalization of Society: On the Transformation of Human Conditions into Treatable Disorders, just published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, Conrad examines the emergence of medicalization, the consequences of the expanding medical domain, and the implications for health and society. He finds in recent developments, such as the growing number of possible diagnoses and increasing biomedical enhancements, concerns about the future consequences of expanding medicalization.

In the past few decades the impact of physicians on medicalization has diminished, contends Conrad. Instead, the pharmaceutical and biotechnical industries, insurance companies and HMOs, and the patient as a consumer have become the major forces promoting medicalization, helped along by developments such as direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising. In such ads, ubiquitous on television, consumers are invited to take direction from pharmaceutical promotion, paradoxically diminishing the traditional role of the physician with the words: ask your doctor if (name of drug) is right for you.

As a sociologist, I am concerned with the pathologization of conditions which used to be considered the normal spectrum of human behavior; I am concerned with the growing aspects of life where medical definitions define normality, said Con

Contact: Laura Gardner
Brandeis University

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