To Fix or To Heal

Patient Care, Public Health, and the Limits of Biomedicine

352 pages

4 b/w figures

February, 2016

ISBN: 9781479809585



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Joseph E. Davis is Research Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Research at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. He is the Publisher of The Hedgehog Review and is the author or editor of three books, including Accounts of Innocence: Sexual Abuse, Trauma, and the Self.

All books by Joseph E. Davis

Ana Marta González is Associate Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Navarra, Spain, where she is the Director of the Emotional Culture and Identity project at the Institute for Culture and Society. She is also the Academic Director of the Social Trends Institute. Her publications include Care Professions and Globalization: Theoretical and Practical Perspectives.

All books by Ana Marta Gonzalez

Do doctors fix patients? Or do they heal them? For all of modern medicine’s many successes, discontent with the quality of patient care has combined with a host of new developments, from aging populations to the resurgence of infectious diseases, which challenge medicine’s overreliance on narrowly mechanistic and technical methods of explanation and intervention, or “fixing’ patients. The need for a better balance, for more humane “healing” rationales and practices that attend to the social and environmental aspects of health and illness and the experiencing person, is more urgent than ever. Yet, in public health and bioethics, the fields best positioned to offer countervailing values and orientations, the dominant approaches largely extend and reinforce the reductionism and individualism of biomedicine.
The collected essays in To Fix or To Heal do more than document the persistence of reductionist approaches and the attendant extension of medicalization to more and more aspects of our lives. The contributors also shed valuable light on why reductionism has persisted and why more holistic models, incorporating social and environmental factors, have gained so little traction. The contributors examine the moral appeal of reductionism, the larger rationalist dream of technological mastery, the growing valuation of health, and the enshrining of individual responsibility as the seemingly non-coercive means of intervention and control. This paradigm-challenging volume advances new lines of criticism of our dominant medical regime, even while proposing ways of bringing medical practice, bioethics, and public health more closely into line with their original goals. Precisely because of the centrality of the biomedical approach to our society, the contributors argue, challenging the reductionist model and its ever-widening effects is perhaps the best way to press for a much-needed renewal of our ethical and political discourse. 


  • "An important and provocative contribution to a growing debate over the nature and social impact of what the authors describe as a dysfunctionally reductionist medical enterprise. This book questions the boundaries and moral implications of what many of us have come to accept as a necessarily medicalized world, a world of fixable individual bodies. It deserves a broad readership."

    —Charles Rosenberg, author of Our Present Complaint: American Medicine, Then and Now

  • “Just when you thought nothing new could be said about reductionism and holism in biomedicine, To Fix or To Heal appears and proves otherwise. Balanced and non-polemical, this collection shows how many recent biomedical developments, however much they seem to marginalize questions of value, morality, and social responsibility, often end up evoking them and making their consideration more urgent than ever."

    —Robert Aronowitz, author of Unnatural History: Breast Cancer and American Society