How to distinguish medicalization from over-medicalization?

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 22 (1):119-128 (2019)


Is medicalization always harmful? When does medicine overstep its proper boundaries? The aim of this article is to outline the pragmatic criteria for distinguishing between medicalization and over-medicalization. The consequences of considering a phenomenon to be a medical problem may take radically different forms depending on whether the problem in question is correctly or incorrectly perceived as a medical issue. Neither indiscriminate acceptance of medicalization of subsequent areas of human existence, nor criticizing new medicalization cases just because they are medicalization can be justified. The article: (i) identifies various consequences of both well-founded medicalization and over-medicalization; (ii) demonstrates that the issue of defining appropriate limits of medicine cannot be solved by creating an optimum model of health; (iii) proposes four guiding questions to help distinguish medicalization from over-medicalization. The article should foster a normative analysis of the phenomenon of medicalization and contribute to the bioethical reflection on the boundaries of medicine.

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Emilia Kaczmarek
University of Warsaw

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