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The Ethics Of Reductionism In The Medical Sciences

1763 words - 7 pages

While Marcum’s philosophy focuses on medical research at the molecular, genetic, and tissue levels, Elisabeth Lloyd emphasizes the socioeconomic factors of health. She presents an empirical trend that permeates through a number of cross-national studies: the degree of income inequality in any given society is strongly correlated with the society’s level of morbidity and mortality. This means that if a society’s income gradient is steep (the poor are severely more poor than the rich), the worse off everyone is – rich and poor. This phenomenon can be seen in a wide range of diseases, including allergies, asthma, accelerated aging, cancer, epilepsy, Grave’s disease, multiple sclerosis, myocardial infarction, PTSD, rheumatoid arthritis, just to name a few. Because both the rich and the poor are affected by this trend, material deprivation (i.e. unhealthier food, lack of regular doctor visits, etc.) does not seem to be the cause of lower health rates in societies with poorer poor. Rather, this suggests that it is one’s childhood experience, social environment, and the conditions under which people spend their daily lives that directly affect individual biological responses, which lead to differences in resilience and vulnerability to disease. It seems that anything contributing to an individual’s chronic anxiety is likely to affect his or her overall health. Levels of social anxiety may be affected by the depression, isolation, insecurities, and anxiety that are associated with a certain social environment. Thus, in societies with higher income gradient, there is a higher degree of inequalities, more differing social classes, numerous people with feelings of deprivation, and less social cohesion. To support this claim, Lloyd presents evidence that people are more likely to feel trustful towards others with whom their income differences are smaller. All of these factors greatly contribute to levels of chronic anxiety among individuals. The effects of anxiety to a person’s health mimic rapid aging, as Lloyd states, “this is because, among other things, when the body is mobilizing resources for muscular activity, other system –maintenance and repair processes – such as growth, tissues repair, immunity, digestion, reproductive functions, etc. – are put on hold” (Lloyd, 2002, pg. 73). With this in mind, the importance of social interactions should not be underestimated in the medical sciences. Therefore, just as the lower levels of reductionism (such as the genetic and biochemical workings of the body) are a crucial contribution to the knowledge of medical sciences, the higher levels of holism (such as an individual’s social and economic atmosphere) are also critical in obtaining a fully developed scope of medical understanding (Lloyd, 2002).
Finally, I will discuss the ethical duty that is inherent in medicine to view a patient as a whole human being. Alfred Tauber asserts that there is an unsteady balance of holism and reductionism in modern medicine....

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