Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Stealing Bodies

Medicine continues to come under fire for its dehumanizing gaze. The fire comes from everywhere: who has not indicted the medical gaze for its objectification of the human person? In the pages of this blog, the discussion notes that both Foucault and Marion have articulated the methods of medical surveillance that situate the person so that only the body comes into view, thereby suppressing the flesh and the wholeness of the person, and institutionalizing the gaze. In this sense, medicine still enacts the caricature of robbing graves, stealing bodies in order to focus the gaze. Indeed, the medical gaze no longer need wait until dark to enter misty graveyard: the gaze has achieved the uncanny ability to steal the body from the person, the body from the 'flesh' right in its own back yard: the clinic, the hospital, even the house-call.

Medicine can see nothing but the body in its biometric presentation. This mythos runs deep beneath troubled waters. Is medicine really that blind to suffering, seeing instead only dysfunction of 'normal' systems defined by 'normal' mathematical ranges? Is that caricature the straw man set up to fall, or at least receive the righteous arrows of indignation from journalism and medical 'philosophers?' Certainly medicine has undergone several transformations in the last 100 years, but the transformation that disfigures bios (a life lived) into zoe (bare-life) by removing the person from her home, her living environment, to the clinic, where the medical gaze sharpens its focus, is not even the most recent transformation, one Giorgio Agamben might call an act of medical 'sovereignty.'

If medicine has undergone a more recent transformation, one that has modified its gaze even further, it would be that political transformation that injured its eyes, disfigured its vision so that what it sees is only the person reduced to the body in the name of population-based healthcare. Governmental sovereignty has recreated medicine in its own image: a utilitarianism (I think here too generous a term) that views the demos as a homogeneous entity that can be managed only as a collective. Here, sovereignty exercises its prerogatives in the name of the collective in order to reduce lives lived to bare lives; it conscripts medicine to its own ends, medicalizing not only the people, but the law, ethics, and ways of living and being.

Jeffrey Bishop's The Anticipatory Corpse, for example, should be read as an indictment of medicine's complicity in the politics of the human body. Though subtitled Medicine, Power and the Care of the Dying, Bishop's study begins in Foucault and ends in the usurpation of the medical gaze itself by the machinations of amoral sovereignty. Wildly off base in his assassination of Palliative Medicine, Bishop visits his recurrent thesis that nonetheless gives us pause: sovereignty seeks legitimation through (medical) science, as it seeks to define and then politicize life and death.

Politically, who can fault the government for enlisting the experts at Harvard or the Institutes of Medicine, whose ethics are ostensibly irreproachable? Medical 'society' at its highest and most prestigious levels has dictated how medicine will be practiced in the 21st century. In collusion with big business interests, the best and brightest (credentialed as such) in medicine have wreaked havoc within the very site of medicine: the relationship between a physician and her patient. As corporate boards and company stockholders extract obscene wealth from the delivery of healthcare, hospitals and legitimate medical practices have attempted to provide care with ever-decreasing revenues, which have been diverted seemingly anywhere but where they are needed most.

Human beings suffer in the flesh, yet the 'business of medicine' has plucked out an eye of medicine so that it can see only the body---the business end of medicine has determined that it's just too expensive to see some things. The flesh, the locus of suffering, has become invisible, and only the body reduced to measurements comes into view. The gospel of the boardroom has made this the truth that sets wealth free. The complicity of medicine with the corporate-political juggernaut has stripped the relationship between providers of care and the receivers of care from the delivery of healthcare.

If elections are true reflections of the will of the demos, then is it unreasonable to conclude that the current healthcare situation is precisely the one the people themselves have permitted and shaped? Is the stripping of doctor-patient relationship more of a divestiture of a relationship that is more a remnant of a bygone era? If so, why all the complaints and self-righteous prose?

Hollywood's Dr. Frankenstein visits graves under cover of darkness to exhume bodies to be imbued with living flesh, a flesh envisioned by human ingenuity and enterprise. Stealing bodies is the good doctor's only recourse, as his design could not be countenanced by a brand of medicine bound by prohibitive ethics. This stealing of bodies steals bodies already bereft of the flesh. The contemporary Frankenstein, the melding of politics and medicine, steals bodies from the flesh of human beings whose integrity of personhood does not fit into the politico-medical model.

We know this monster, this 20th century beast and the very flower of 'modernism'. It is the monster that sterilized societies' 'idiots,' euthanized lives not worth living (or medically determined to be something less than living), and murdered the bios reduced to zoe that was determined to be an invading pathogen---a disease within the body politic---in the convenient genocides that are the 20th century's legacy to the 21st. The 21st century, our century, remains poised to resurrect the monster to do its bidding. Indeed the monster is not dead, only sleeping: talitha cumi.

The inconvenient truth of medicine's complicity with politics is as easy to ignore as other inconvenient truths. Great suspicion must meet the intersections of politics and science, medical or otherwise. The monster writes its metanarrative in small print, but shouts out its story from the gaudy billboards of consciousness.

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