American medication is no well. Though it continues to be the most widely respect of professions, though it has actually never been an ext competent technically, that is in trouble, both indigenous without and from within.

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As a recently minted medical school graduate, ns am suddenly confronted with much an ext responsibility. Now I should write prescriptions because that patients, create notes ~ above patients, and also know what come do throughout an emergency. The is all very daunting. While anxious and excited around these new responsibilities, i am also confused about what i’m doing it every for.

I don’t average that i’m confused around why I made decision medicine. True, clinical school was incredibly difficult, but there will certainly be many rewards under the road. I median to ask: What is the objective of medicine? it is queer the one have to spend four years learning medicine and not understand one’s purpose. Yet no one ever questioned this question in clinical school. Now, ~ graduation, the question’s importance is suddenly apparent. Mine future actions rely on the answer come it.

Some answers are implied during our schooling. The objective of medicine that seems apparent is to cure the patience of disease. After all, this is why patients come to the doctor. Yet sometimes, we additionally attempt come make people happy. I’ve viewed patients get IV fluids since it will certainly “make lock feel favor they’re obtaining treatment.” i have seen kids receive antibiotics even when they didn’t need them, simply due to the fact that the parents want something done for your children. I’ve additionally seen a patient receive a “therapeutic” EKG — his chest hurt and despite the fact that there was no means he was having actually a love attack, he got an EKG to “calm that down.” The objectives of medicine, according to mine own limited experience then, room at least twofold: the removed of condition and, an ext broadly, patient satisfaction even when it has actually nothing to execute with disease.


Dr. Leon Kass, a teacher and bioethicist trained together a medical professional (and a brand-new Atlantis contributor), wrote around the function of medicine in the 1975 essay “Regarding the end of Medicine and also the quest of Health” in the general public Interest(available below as a PDF). Though written forty years ago this summer, the essay is as relevant and necessary together ever. Ok highlight several of Kass’s significant points to assist us think through my question around medicine’s purpose.

The fact that the objective of the clinical profession is no often taken into consideration is, Kass points out, deeply troubling. Indeed, without response to the question, Kass writes, “medicine is at hazard of coming to be merely a set of powerful means, and the physician at threat of ending up being merely a technician and engineer that the body, a scalpel because that hire, selling his services upon demand.” This would certainly spell the end of medicine, Kass trust — “there will be an end to medication unless there stays an end for medicine.”

Kass proceeds to tackle the concern by critiquing some of the goals of medication that civilization sometimes assume. Happiness, he argues, have to not it is in the function of medicine. Kass uses some examples of doctors attempting to make patients happy: a surgeon might remove a woman’s chest so she deserve to improve she golf swing, or a family physician could administeramphetamine injections to world who desire to feeling good. This interventions space aimed exclusively at gratification and also thus space not even pertained to with pathology.

Even the prolongation the life or the avoidance of death per se must not be the goal of medicine, Kass argues. This, perhaps, is daunting for us to understand. Indeed, doctors day-to-day witnessdeath and terminal illness. If we recognize CPR, execute we withhold it due to the fact that it’s not our job to prevent death or extend life? not at all, but if we think that the goal of medicine is the prevention of death, then the reasonable endpoint the this have to be “bodily immortality.” Kass observes the “to it is in alive and to be healthy and balanced are no the same, despite the an initial is both a condition of the second, and, approximately a point, a consequence.”

Anyone’s life deserve to be an extensive now. Machines breathe because that patients. Devices oxygenate patients’ blood. Devices pump blood into the circulatory system. All this occurs regularly in the intensive care unit. But if doctors put patients on these devices indefinitely solely to store blood flowing with arteries regardless of the patient’s condition, the mere preservation of life, and by extension the task of medicine, is meaningless.


The score of medicine, follow to Kass, is the preservation of health. The word “health” in English way “wholeness.” it is acquired from the Old English hal, i beg your pardon is additionally the origin of “whole.” because that Kass “wholeness” involves a “fully created mature organism … written of parts. That is a structure and not a heap.” Additionally, wholeness contains the “working-well the the work done” by a person’s body. Thus, health consists of a appropriate balance of parts that make up the whole and the workings of the whole human being. In stimulate to demonstrate his point, Kass bring away the instance of a squirrel. A healthy and balanced squirrel is not simply a squirrel with a common digestive tract, the is a squirrel who acts and looks choose a squirrel. That leaps native tree to tree, runs, gathers, and also buries. All of these qualities tell us that this is a fully-functioning, whole squirrel — a healthy squirrel. Similarly, a healthy human gift acts and also looks like a human being. If this concept may it seems to be ~ vague, Kass’s point is well-taken; a healthy human is “recognizable if no definable.”

A great example that preserving health and wellness is the well-child visit in a pediatrician’s office, whereby physicians check for regular growth and development. This demonstrates that “health is a good in its own right, not just a privation of one or every evils.” In other words, pediatricians don’t just see kids who room sick (though they do that, too); they likewise see kids who room healthy. And also in doing for this reason they aid make certain that these children remain healthy. Family medicine physicians perform something comparable with adults. They check out their patient on a constant basis come ensure that patients are exercising, eating right, and also have no abnormal blood counts or cholesterol numbers, and also that they are otherwise doing well.

Check-ups favor these room as crucial as giving a patience antibiotics because that pneumonia. Medicine entails figuring out how to keep the excellent functioning of a human being. It necessarily includes what now we call preventive medicine: vaccines, cessation of smoking, a healthy diet, an energetic lifestyle. This watch of medication necessarily involves the patient together a companion to the physician: both occupational together to help maintain the health of the patient.

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Many the the points we suppose from medication today perform not loss under Kass’s meaning of health. The injection that Botox to do one look younger, because that example, does not involve wellness in any way whatsoever. Having actually wrinkles in one’s confront does not influence the fantastic functioning that a person. Endocrinologists, plastic surgeons, psychiatrists, and many other specialists and generalists all attend to patients who request the kinds of steps that go beyond health. Whether these procedures ought come be obtainable is a totally separate question from whether these services loss under the purview the the physician. If physicians perform them because that patients, climate physicians, ns think, become service service providers to the highest possible bidder. They come to be technicians in ~ the whim that patients. (Kass addressed several of these very same themes around the difference in between therapy and also enhancement in his 2003 brand-new Atlantisessay “Ageless Bodies, Happy Souls.”)

To be sure, Kass’s 1975 essay go not get in the sort of detailed, philosophical debate that we could hope for. Kass himself admits this as soon as he writes, “large concerns still remain” and “I am not seeking a precise an interpretation of health.” but he offers us a simple and firm rundown of the objective of medicine and we would certainly be remiss if we didn’t research this purpose carefully. Without a purpose, medicine lacks ethical certainty or a soul. No one of us, within medication or without, have the right to afford that.