Tragedy, utopia and medical progress

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Abstract

In this article, tragedy and utopia are juxtaposed, and it is proposed that the problem of “medicalisation” is better understood in a framework of tragedy than in a utopian one. In utopia, it is presupposed that there is an error behind every setback and every side effect, whereas tragedy brings to light how side effects can be the result of irreconcilable conflicts. Medicalisation is to some extent the result of such a tragic conflict. We are given power by medical progress, but are also confronted with our fallibility, thus provoking insecurity. This situation is illustrated by the sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Recent epidemiological investigations have shown that infants sleeping in a prone position have a 15–20 times higher risk of dying from SIDS than infants sleeping in a supine position. A simple means of preventing infant death is suggested by this discovery, but insecurity is also created. What else has been overlooked? Perhaps a draught, or wet diapers, or clothes of wool are just as dangerous as sleeping prone? Further investigations and precautions will be needed, but medicalisation prevails.

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