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20 What does ‘medicine’ mean and why does it matter?
  1. Astridur Stefansdottir
  1. University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland


We have by now realized that medicine is constantly evolving and spreading into new areas of people’s lives – not always to the benefit of those influenced by it. To be able to evaluate whether this expansion is justifiable it is necessary to have a common understanding on what medicine is and what it should be. To shed light on those questions I will draw attention to a tension between the goals and ends of medicine, on the one hand, and the societal forces influencing those goals, on the other. Callahan and Hanson (1999) state in their report on the goals of medicine that: ‘medicine should find its direction by means of a continuing dialogue with society in which each seeks its legitimate sphere, duties, and rights’. I will argue that in order for a ‘dialogue’ of this kind to be fruitful it is necessary to underline the importance of self-awareness of the medical profession. Physicians need to turn their attention for a while away from their daily work and reflect upon their own position and foundation. The questions they should pose themselves are: Who am I? and What do I stand for? These questions should be a central practice in the work of every doctor. If this reflection and awareness is not exercised, medical doctors are no longer reminded of their vocation and they lose sight of how to heed this vocation in their work. This neglect can cause the profession to lose her calling and autonomy in the delicate dialogue with society where medical boundaries are spelled out.

Objectives Sharpen our understanding of the goals of medicine. Such an understanding is necessary to realize what lies within the spheres of medicine and what not.

Method Philosophical investigation.

Conclusions If medical doctors are to be able to participate in a societal dialogue on the goals and hence limits of medicine, they need to reflect upon their own identity and form an understanding of what they stand for.

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