On the Myth of Medical Diagnosis

“The naming and labelling of ‘diseases’ is a harmful practice that to a large extent denies the innate mobility and ever-changing quality of the psyche as expressed in flesh. You are told that you have ‘something’. Out of the blue ‘it’ has attacked you, and your most intimate organs, perhaps. You are usually told that your emotions or beliefs or system of values have nothing to do with the unfortunate circumstances that beset you … If you believe that only doctors can cure you, you had better go to them, because in the framework of your beliefs they are the only people who can help you. But the framework itself is limiting; and while you may be cured on one difficulty, you will only replace it with another.”

Seth, in The Nature of Personal Reality Jane Roberts, New World Library 1994

“During the 17th and 18th centuries, doctors who applied measurements to sick people were liable to be considered quacks by their colleagues. During the French Revolution, English doctors still looked askance at clinical thermometry. Together with the routine taking of the pulse, it became accepted clinical practice only around 1845, nearly thirty years after the stethoscope was first used by Laenne.”

“An advanced industrial society is sick-making because it disables people from coping with their environment, and when they break down, it substitutes a ‘clinical’ prosthesis for the broken relationships.

“The medical diagnosis of substantive disease entities … is a surreptitious and amoral way of blaming the victim … The sickness that society produces is baptised by the doctor with names that bureaucrats cherish … The more convincing the diagnosis the more valuable the therapy appears to be, the easier it is to convince people that they need both, and the less likely they are to rebel against industrial growth.”

“Substantive disease can thus be interpreted as the materialisation of a politically convenient myth, which takes on substance within the individual’s body when this body is in rebellion against the demands which industrial society makes upon it.”

Ivan Illich  LIMITS TO MEDICINE – Medical Nemesis: the expropriation of health

The health of individuals is inseparable from the health of human social and economic relations, and from their inner relationship to their own bodies. Diagnosis is the medical expression of a society in which sicknesses of relation is reduced to ‘things’ – and in which our relation to our bodies themselves is one which reduces them to a perceptual or clinical object. In reality there is not such ‘thing’ or ‘entity’ as ‘a disease’ separable from the body as a whole – itself inseparable from the entire body of our existential environment. The emergence of seemingly separable disease entities through their manifestations as autonomous viruses, self-multiplying cancer cells etc.  is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy – resulting in forms of medical treatment which artificially seek to isolate, eliminate or surgically separate these supposed disease entities from the self, body and life-world of the individual as whole. Biological diagnosis aims, in principle, at reducing all subjectively felt dis-ease that may be naturally experienced by individuals in a sick society to a disease object or entity that can then be ‘cured’ – thus medically repressing or annihilating the valid subjective dis-ease it gave expression to.

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