Limits of Medicine/ Medical Nemesis - Ivan Illich

Nemisis Dedinition

1- something that a person cannot conquer, achieve, etc.: The performance test proved to be my nemesis.
2-an opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome.
3 -Classical Mythologythe goddess of divine retribution.
4 - an agent or act of retribution or punishment.

Ivan Illich-

"His 1975 book Medical Nemesis, importing to the sociology of medicine the concept of medical harm, argues that industrialised society widely impairs quality of life by overmedicalising life, pathologizing normal conditions, creating false dependency, and limiting other more healthful solutions."

"Health, argues Illich, is the capacity to cope with the human reality of death, pain, and sickness. Technology can benefit many; yet, modern mass medicine has gone too far, launching into a godlike battle to eradicate death, pain, and sickness. In doing so, it turns people into risk-averse consuming objects, turning healing into mere science, turning medical healers into mere drug-surgical technicians." 


Ivan Illich- Natural Health Perpective (

"In the wellness movement, the concept of medicalization is attributed to Ivan Illich who was, also, one of the first to advocate patient empowerment."

Illich's classic criticism of Western medicine is called Medical Nemesis and was first published in 1976. A second edition was later issued as Limits to Medicine in 1995. In Medical Nemesis Illich applies a formulaic "model of social assessment of technological progress ... to the criticism of the professional monopoly and of the scientism in health care."[5]

In Medical Nemesis, Illich challenged the fundamental premise of medical progress, arguing that institutional medicine is overwhelmingly pathogenic and actively sickening.

The concept of medicalization is attributed to Ivan Illich, who first wrote on the subject in 1976. He proposed that modern medicine had become detrimental to society, by amongst other things, "launching ... an inhuman attempt to defeat death, pain and sickness".[5] By doing so, he argued, medicine had deprived individuals and societies of their ability to cope with sickness and death.

According to Illich, "iatrogenesis cannot be understood unless it is seen as the specifically medical manifestation of specific counterproductivitiy." Illich sees three levels of iatrogenesis.
Clinical iatrogenesis is the injury done to patients by ineffective, toxic, and unsafe treatments.
Social iatrogenesis results from the medicalisation of life.
Cultural iatrogenesis is the destruction of traditional ways of dealing with and making sense of death, pain, and sickness.

 Evidence-based medicine is described in these pages 20 years before the term was coined. The explosion in ever escalating health care costs is both predicted and explained. Popular opinion wrongly credits medical science with the control of disease, when in fact the general decrease in morbidity and mortality are in fact the result of better standards of living. Further he claims, along with Weil, that awe-inspiring medical technology has combined with egalitarian rhetoric to create the impression that contemporary medicine is highly effective."

Medical Nemesis
The Expropriation of Health, Ivan Illich

Limits of Medicine -Author: Ivan Illich, Reviewed by: Vinesh Kumar

Limits to medicine. Medical nemesis: The expropriation of health ,Richard L Smith
Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 2003








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