Part 3, 27 May 2019

Modern Medical Technology: Possibilities, Problems and Profit

Charles Foster, PhD Candidate


In this presentation, I shall reflect upon the modern adoption of medical technology, focusing on how the instrumental use of biomedical technologies to reduce patient suffering has, at the same time, also reinforced a scientific perspective about human life, stripped of its meaningful context. To support my argument, I will turn to Fredrik Svenaeus, who extends Martin Heidegger’s critique of technoscience into the realm of medicine.  In particular, I will focus on Svenaeus’ claim that medical technologies promote understanding human beings exclusively as scientific objects, leaving us without a meaningful context to think through the challenges of medicalisation, genetic therapies in reproduction, palliative care and the limits of medical intervention more generally.  To show the potential for medical technologies to radically reconfigure our meaningful lives from birth to death, I will outline the changes in human reproduction wrought by genetic therapies and embryonic selection, and the technological management of human death in palliative care.  Through these examples I hope to highlight that, while medical technologies open up new possibilities for human life, the scientific control they offer cannot address the fundamental question of whether or not we ought to take up these new potentialities.  Having established the transformative character of medical technologies for our meaningful lives, I will subsequently elucidate how these technologies support the trend towards medicalisation, whereby undesirable human conditions and behaviours are reconceived of as illnesses.  I will then outline how medicalisation has been economically exploited in modern healthcare, underscoring how pharmaceutical businesses generate profits by selling technologies to address these newly defined pathologies.  In summary, I hope to show that, while it is impossible and undesirable to abandon our use of medical technologies, we should challenge the reductive understanding of human beings this technology promotes, in order to clarify the meaningful impact of future technological possibilities for medicine and human existence more broadly.

part 3