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February 12, 1997

Sickness and Healing: An Anthropological Perspective

Author Affiliations

Southern Methodist University Dallas, Tex

JAMA. 1997;277(6):500-501. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540300068039

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Physician George Engel, writing in 1977 and quoted by Hahn, appears prescient in his contention that "all medicine is in crisis and, further, that medicine's crisis derives from... adherence to a model of disease no longer adequate for the scientific tasks and social responsibilities of either medicine or psychiatry." In Sickness and Healing: An Anthropological Perspective, Robert Hahn argues that "Biomedicine" (the term used to refer to the biologically oriented medicine that predominates in the United States and other industrialized societies) is indeed in critical condition, suffering not only from financial ills, but also from massive dissatisfaction among both patients and physicians.

Hahn, an anthropologist and epidemiologist, traces the current crisis to the underlying philosophy and structure of medical education, medical practice, research, and the organization of medical institutions. Fundamentally, biomedicine has failed to acknowledge the social and cultural roots of professional and lay beliefs and attitudes about sickness. In