Med-Anthro Pomos and Maternal Death Rates in the US


In a friend's class they talked about how maternal death rates in do United States are higher than in any other industrialized country. The explanation offered was sort of two claims that bleed into one another.

The first is that in the US medical complex, pregnancy is pathologized. The second, which is possibly supposed to be read as a result of the first, is that pregnancy in the US medical system is supposed to be tightly controlled, that everything about the mother and fetus need to be a certain way, that everything needs to be done a certain way, and these constraints don’t allow for the natural variations in the course of pregnancy and birth. That many unnecessary C-sections are given.

This is the culture of biomedicine, the claim goes, further exhibited by the fact that “birthing happens from the perspective of the doctor rather than the mother.”

Two things stand out to me about this.

The first is how surprising this interpretation is. While many statistics do a good job of obfuscating inequality, I would expect maternal death rate to be a good measure of the quality, or lack thereof, of healthcare among those least provided for. I would expect the US to have a high maternal death rate based solely on its famously inequitable medical system. I would believe the offered explanation only if it is demonstrated that the higher maternal death rate actually correlates positively with some aspect of medical care. That is, for instance, if a disproportionate number of maternal deaths occur secondary to C-sections.

All of this constraint, this opposition to nature, is chalked up to culture of biomedicine. This is a perfectly typical postmodern anthropological take, not just in its content, but in its completely ignoring the structural context in which the culture of biomedicine is subsumed.

The practical critiques offered, those of the ways in which pregnancy and birth are contorted to fit an unnatural and homogeneous template, are probably sound. We probably preform a ton of unnecessary C-sections, at the very least. But to attribute this to the culture of biomedicine, rather than the complex of insurance companies, hospital finance, statistics-based doctor pay, and pharmaceutical boards which surrounds it, is plain capitalist apologism.

The culture of biomedicine is, after all, scientific one, and therefore one that’s capable of responding at least to maternal mortality rates, even if not to the fleshy critiques about humanity and what gives life meaning. Capitalist medicine is neither scientific nor concerned with human life.