“Me” Medicine and Public Health

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on September 8th, 2010

Donna Dickenson, emeritus professor of medical ethics and humanities at the University of London, and author of Body Shopping: Converting Body Parts to Profit and Property in the Body: Feminist Perspectives, is now turning her attention to the "seismic shift toward genetic personalized medicine." She approaches it with some skepticism.

Writing in Canada's national newspaper The Globe and Mail, Dickenson points out that

[C]redit for the greatest advances in human health and longevity over the past two centuries should go to "we" medicine, not "me" medicine. Public health and sanitation programs, polio and smallpox vaccinations, and tuberculosis screening in schools and workplaces have contributed the most to improved health in the Western world and beyond.

That was then. What about now? Dickenson believes, along with many others, that personal genomics and other instances of "me" medicine remain "more hype than reality - and sometimes dangerous hype."

Dickenson welcomes some kinds of personalized medicine, including genetic techniques that promise to tailor drug choices and doses to each patient's genome. But she is troubled that the "growing popular tendency to define all conditions as genetically determined" is likely to cause "public health measures…to be neglected in favour of individual genetic scans or personalized genetic-testing services."

What Dickenson calls "me" medicine isn't limited to gene-based developments. She mentions private umbilical cord banks and "enhancement technologies such as deep-brain stimulation" as other examples of practices that

promote the idea that you have a duty to be the best "me" possible. In fact, modern biotechnology is increasingly about "me" medicine, the "brand" being individual patients' supposed distinctiveness….
[L]ike the drunk who looks for his lost keys only under the streetlight, biomedicine is in danger of concentrating only where the glare is brightest - not on the most effective health interventions but on the most personalized and profitable, which nowadays go hand in hand.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Posted in Marcy Darnovsky's Blog Posts, Personal genomics


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