Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

36 Medical Humanities: There Is No Alternative Medicine

Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

36 Medical Humanities: There Is No Alternative Medicine

Article excerpt

Although commonly used by healthcare professionals and lay people, the term "alternative medicine" is problematic for at least three reasons. First, the nature of "alternative" in "alternative medicine" is anything but clear. Advocates of the term fail to convincingly define what they claim to offer an alternative to and on what grounds. Medicine is often presented in their rhetoric merely as a monolithic and dosed system that needs an alternative to it. Concepts like "holistie" versus "reductionist," "soft" versus "hard" and "natural" versus "unnatural" are common in the discussion, but these concepts appear to be empty appellations without any substantial value.

Secondly, "alternative medicine" escapes a meaningful definition, and it cannot be clearly differentiated from conventional medicine. Alternative medicine is what sociologists refer to as a "residual category," which is defined not by its internal coherence but by its exclusion from other categories of medicine. In addition, bundling all the so-called alternative therapies under one heading is misleading. It is hard to see common features between, say chiropractic treatment, herbal medicines, acupuncture, and megadoses of vitamins. Many otherwise deep and comprehensive analyses of "alternative medicine" lose their power because the authors ignore the great difference between alternative approaches and therapies. …

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