Being human is now a disease! This phenomenon is what Lynn Payer described as “disease-mongering”. In Reading Engelhardt: Essays on the Thought of H. Tristam Engelhardt, Jr, the authors made an observation that sufficiently summarises medical diagnosis in the modern era. They said, “… the lavish economic support of medicine has tended rather markedly to expand the concept of disease according to what is treatable, thereby redefining many otherwise-routine human conditions as illnesses.”
Lynn Payer in Disease-Mongers: How Doctors, Drug Companies, and Insurers Are Making You Feel Sick then wrote, “Disease-mongering – trying to convince essentially well people that they are sick, or slightly sick people that they are very ill-is very big business.”
The Human Condition reimagined as a Disease
Ivan Illich’s Limits to Medicine is a brutally honest text which evaluates the importance of medicine in the modern era. In the book, Illich argued that medicine “can transform people into patients because they are unborn, new-born, menopausal, or at some other ‘age of risk’”. This, he called, the medicalization of life. Conrad and Schneider then added onto the medicalization of life, the medicalization of deviance which, for example, is responsible for alcoholics and gamblers being labelled addicts. The list of diseases that are in truth not diseases is quite long with natural variations between individuals, social problems and normal experiences all being redefined to become treatable diseases.
One example is that of Listerine, the United States’ first over the counter mouthwash. Dr. Larry Dossey says the product’s maker “was confident they had found a cure; now all they needed was a disease”. With a view to create a need for their product in the market, they made “halitosis” up which they publicised as having far-reaching effects in romance, marriage and work.
Dossey says, “Soon, people all over America were suffering from halitosis.” Bad breath was therefore elevated to the lethal dimension of disease with punishing consequences. This approach has been employed since then and even those conditions that are indeed medical conditions have been trumped up to the status of epidemics when their incidence is really quite low. Dossey identifies erectile dysfunction, female sexual dysfunction, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), restless legs syndrome, osteoporosis, social shyness, irritable bowel syndrome and balding as being some of the manifestations of disease-mongering. These conditions may exist but their incidence has been exaggerated for profits.
Disease mongering as a social cancer
Disease mongering has the effect of not just creating unnecessary anxiety among the people but it also shifts the burden of responsibility from people. Many criminals are being labelled emotionally unstable and therefore unable to fully comprehend the nature of their actions. Daniel Callahan pointed out in a Hastings Center Studies paper that, “…obviously enough, matters get out of hand when all physical, mental, and communal disorders are put under the heading of ‘sickness’, and all sufferers (all of us in the end) placed in the blameless ‘sick role’. Not only are the concepts of ‘sickness’ and ‘illness’ drained of all content, it also becomes impossible to ascribe any freedom or responsibility to those caught up in the throes of sickness. The whole world is sick, and no one is responsible any longer for anything.”
Interestingly, in the United States of America a number of young men who go on mass shooting rampages have been deemed mentally ill and thus not responsible for their actions. With a widening definition of mental illness perpetuated by big medical corporations, a lot more people have medical defences for committing crimes. An implosion is lurking.
Disease has become one big hyperbole. There is a growing need for regulations in the pharmaceutical field to prevent the ridiculous from happening. A time is fast approaching when everyone will be taking some sort of medicine for what is only an ordinary condition of the human experience. A time is approaching when these companies will have us take medicine for the simple fact that we are alive and human.