The Mechanical Patient: Finding a More Human Model of Health

Sholom Glouberman

Productivity Press
Published June 12, 2018
Reference - 190 Pages
ISBN 9781138549944 - CAT# K376024

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• The book names a current problem with health care that has been widely felt but not actually named: the chemical/mechanical model of health.

• It for the first time describes how the model originated and uses the circumstances of Robert Boyle to explain the allure of the model and why it was pursued.

• It retells the story of scurvy and identifies a logical problem with controlled trials that has so far not been seen.

• It describes the circumstances that led to the academic acceptance of the chemical/mechanical model of health in the late 19th Century

• It presents a coherent explanation of increased global longevity that relies on social and relational factors as well as chemical/mechanical ones.

• It attempts an early version of a social/ relational model of health.


Healthcare is very much dependent on the model of the patient that is assumed by healthcare providers. The current model derives from a chemical/mechanical view of the patient body. Simply put: we are healthy if all of our mechanical parts are working properly and if all of the chemicals in our body are in the right proportions and have the appropriate reactions. This view is based on philosophical accounts of the body that go back to Paracelsus, Descartes, Boyle and others. It became the central basis of medical practice only in the late 19th Century after several hundred years of research and professional politics.

The Mechanical Patient traces the intellectual development of the chemical/mechanical model of the patient and its implementation. This book names the problem that we have with the mechanical patient and prepares us to respond to its exaggerated place in our society. It provides a historical and conceptual background and explains how the chemical/mechanical model of health gained such a strong hold over our thinking and took the place of the earlier Galenic humoral model. It sketches a promising outline of a more humanized model for understanding health and calls for help to fully articulate it. In that way, it joins a growing movement to go beyond our current chemical/mechanical orientation.


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