Friday, January 22, 2016

The Medicalization of Love

Pharmaceuticals or other emerging technologies could be used to enhance (or diminish) feelings of lust, attraction, and attachment in adult romantic partnerships. Although such interventions could conceivably be used to promote individual (and couple) well-being, their widespread development and/or adoption might lead to the ‘medicalization’ of human love and heartache—for some, a source of a serious concern. In this essay, we argue that the medicalization of love need not necessarily be problematic, on balance, but could plausibly be expected to have either good or bad consequences depending upon how it unfolds. By anticipating some of the specific ways in which these technologies could yield unwanted outcomes, bioethicists and others can help to direct the course of love’s medicalization—should it happen to occur—more toward the ‘good’ side than the ‘bad.’
  • Worry 1: The Pathologization of Everything. Medicalization can transform ‘ordinary’ human differences and experiences into ‘pathologies,’ redefining what is “normal, expected, and acceptable in life” through the ever-expanding application of disease categories and labels.51
  • Worry 2: The Expansion of Medical Social Control. Medicalization can expand the scope of medical surveillance and thus medical social control over so-called deviance.52 It can also create openings for pharmaceutical companies and other ‘medical entrepreneurs’ to sell us drugs we don’t need for diseases we don’t have (or that have been simply invented out of whole cloth), thereby expanding the power of Big Pharma to meddle in our lives.53
  • Worry 3: The Narrow Focus on Individuals Rather Than the Social Context. Medicalization can lead to the “individualization of social problems,” taking resources and attention away from the wider social and contextual factors that may be creating the need for ‘treatment’ in the first place.54 This concern has been summarized by Barbara Wootton: “Always it is easier to put up a clinic than to pull down a slum.”55

Full article at:

Thanks are due to Marion Godman, Andrew Buskell, Alessa Colaianni, Tomi Kushner, and members of the HPS Philosophy Workshop at the University of Cambridge for helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript. Please note that this work was supported in part by a Wellcome Trust grant, #086041/Z/08/Z.

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