Me Medicine vs. We Medicine: Reclaiming Biotechnology for the Common Good


Personalized healthcare — or what the award-winning author Donna Dickenson calls "Me Medicine" — is radically transforming our longstanding "one-size-fits-all" model. Technologies such as direct-to-consumer genetic testing, pharmacogenetically developed therapies in cancer care, private umbilical cord blood banking, and neurocognitive enhancement claim to cater to an individual's specific biological character, and, in some cases, these technologies have shown powerful potential. Yet in others they have produced ...

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Me Medicine vs. We Medicine: Reclaiming Biotechnology for the Common Good

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Personalized healthcare — or what the award-winning author Donna Dickenson calls "Me Medicine" — is radically transforming our longstanding "one-size-fits-all" model. Technologies such as direct-to-consumer genetic testing, pharmacogenetically developed therapies in cancer care, private umbilical cord blood banking, and neurocognitive enhancement claim to cater to an individual's specific biological character, and, in some cases, these technologies have shown powerful potential. Yet in others they have produced negligible or even negative results. Whatever is behind the rise of Me Medicine, it isn't just science. So why is Me Medicine rapidly edging out We Medicine, and how has our commitment to our collective health suffered as a result?

In her cogent, provocative analysis, Dickenson examines the economic and political factors fueling the Me Medicine phenomenon and explores how, over time, this paradigm shift in how we approach our health might damage our individual and collective well-being. Historically, the measures of "We Medicine," such as vaccination and investment in public-health infrastructure, have radically extended our life spans, and Dickenson argues we've lost sight of that truth in our enthusiasm for "Me Medicine."

Dickenson explores how personalized medicine illustrates capitalism's protean capacity for creating new products and markets where none existed before — and how this, rather than scientific plausibility, goes a long way toward explaining private umbilical cord blood banks and retail genetics. Drawing on the latest findings from leading scientists, social scientists, and political analysts, she critically examines four possible hypotheses driving our Me Medicine moment: a growing sense of threat; a wave of patient narcissism; corporate interests driving new niche markets; and the dominance of personal choice as a cultural value. She concludes with insights from political theory that emphasize a conception of the commons and the steps we can take to restore its value to modern biotechnology.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
“Personalized medicine” is less about scientific progress than society’s obsession with the self, argues University of London ethics professor Dickenson (Body Shopping). She admits that certain strategies might allow doctors to prescribe more suitable treatment: as opposed to the “scorched-earth campaigns” often implemented to cure cancer patients, it’s possible that genetic fingerprinting would enable physicians to tailor treatments and curb the possibility of adverse side effects. On the whole, however, Dickenson warns that this trend may trail a host of unwanted consequences. Her investigation of private vs. public umbilical cord blood banking, for example,—where cells from an umbilical cord are stored either privately, to be used by that baby or by his or her family in the future, or publically, to be used by anyone in need and whose blood type matches that of the stored cells—leads into a discussion of bloodthirsty pharmaceutical companies using marketing-speak to convince mothers to hand over their babies’ blood, which the corporations then trade internationally for beaucoup bucks. As in any good ethical debate, there are convincing arguments to be made for both sides, and Dickenson entertains them. Whether readers side with “Me Medicine” or “We Medicine” is almost beside the point—Dickenson’s mapping of this vital fork in the road is valuable. Agent: Michelle Tessler, Tessler Literary Agency. (June)
Leslie Francis
Donna Dickenson's book is a seminal philosophical examination of the enthusiastic embrace of 'personalized medicine,' questioning easy assumptions about its benefits for patient care and for public health. Dickenson sounds powerful warnings about the extent to which personalized medicine risks confusion with individual self-interest and the devotion of biotechnology for private gain.
David Winickoff
In this timely book, Dickenson levels trenchant criticism at the poster child of the twenty-first-century biomedical establishment: 'personalized medicine.' Analyzing an impressive array of practices in the new life sciences, she makes a persuasive argument that, as personalized medicine unfolds, market values and individualism are trumping the ideals of public health. This book comes at a critical moment. As we reappraise the social contract of health care, this book helps better direct research and development towards the common good.
Michele B. Goodwin
Recognizing that there are trade-offs in how we conceptualize medicine as either driven and developed for the common good or specialized for the individual, Dickenson offers an important examination of contemporary medicine and a beautifully written account of what is at stake when the common good is overlooked. Hands down, she is one of the most insightful contributors to law and medicine discourse, and this book is a must-read for everyone concerned about the future of biotechnology.
Marcy Darnovsky
If you are wondering what to make of personalized medicine's grand claims, let Dickenson be your guide. Turning her keen scientific and political intelligence to biotech visions of individually tailored drugs, consumer gene tests, enhancement technologies, and more, she finds tidbits of hope for improving health care among scads of hype — some of it dangerous. This must-read book makes a powerful case for taming market domination and 'me-centeredness' and for renewing our commitments to public health and the common good.
New York Journal of Books
This book is filled with clearly explained, hard science, giving equal treatment to the benefits and problems of personalized medicine...I recommend expending the necessary reading effort not only for healthcare workers but for the general public.New York Journal of BooksNew York Journal of Books
New Genetics and Society - Michael Morrison
Dickenson's greatest achievement in this book is that she largely succeeds in creating a coherent, compelling narrative across the five disparate case studies and that she does so incorporating insights from a range of domains including sociology, ethics, philosophy, law and biomedicine.
Sheldon Krimsky
Donna Dickenson's book offers a compelling and overarching framework for interpreting new trends in biomedical science, such as gene biobanks, pharmacogenetics, and the banking of cord blood. It forces the reader to ask whether every new technological advance in medicine truly betters the field — and for whom.
Daniel Callahan
Few words have as much ethical clout these days as that of 'choice,' a word that can be construed as the centrality of 'me.' Donna Dickenson's splendid book shows how deeply the 'me' has become embedded in medicine and abetted by the seemingly unchallengeable ethical concept of autonomy. What we have lost is the importance of 'we.' Using personalized medicine as her point of departure, she brilliantly works her way through a range of recent medical developments to show the damage the dominance of 'me' can bring. Her book can help restore the 'us' that has been diminished.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231159746
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 6/4/2013
  • Pages: 278
  • Sales rank: 486,806
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Donna Dickenson was born and educated in New England. After an appointment as associate in research at Yale University, she held professorships at several U.K. universities. She is now professor emerita of medical ethics at the University of London and research associate at the Centre for Health, Law, and Emerging Technologies at the University of Oxford. Her book Body Shopping: Converting Body Parts to Profit was called "essential reading" by The Lancet and "ambitious and thoughtful" by New Scientist. In 2006, Dickenson was awarded the prestigious International Spinoza Lens award for her contribution to public debate on ethics, becoming the first and only woman to win the prize.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface1. A Reality Check for Personalized Medicine2. "Your Genetic Information Should Be Controlled by You": Personalized Genetic Testing3. Pharmacogenetics: One Patient4. "Your Birth Day Gift": Banking Cord Blood5. Enhancement Technologies: Feeling More Like Myself6. "The Ancient, Useless, Dangerous, and Filthy Rite of Vaccination": Public Health7. Reclaiming Biotechnology for the Common GoodNotes Bibliography Index

Columbia University Press

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