The language of illness and disease permeates our everyday lives. We routinely talk about living in a “sick” society or about the “disease” of violence infecting our world.
This metaphoric use of language reveals the true nature of illness: behaviors, conditions, or situations that powerful groups find disturbing and believe stem from in- ternal biological or psychological roots. In other times or places, the same behaviors, conditions, or situations might have been ignored, condemned as sins, or prosecuted as crimes. In other words, illness is both a social construction and a moral status.
In many instances, using the language of medicine and placing control in the hands of doctors offers a more humanistic option than the alternatives. Yet, as this chapter has demonstrated, medical social control also carries a price. The same sur- gical skills and technology for cesarean sections that have saved the lives of so many women and children now endanger the lives of those who have cesarean sections unnecessarily. At the same time, forcing cesarean sections on women potentially threatens women’s legal and social status. Similarly, the development of tools for genetic testing has saved many individuals from the anguish of rearing children doomed to die young and painfully but has cost others their jobs or health insurance.
In the same way that automobiles have increased our personal mobility in exchange for higher rates of accidental death and disability, adopting the language of illness and increasing medical social control bring both benefits and costs. These benefits and costs will need to be weighed carefully as medicine’s technological abilities grow.