2001 Clinical and Scientific Meeting

NT Millen

Sociologist, Australian Centre for the Quality of Life,
Deakin University,

Correspondence to:
School of Social Inquiry,
Faculty of Arts
Deakin University,
Waurn Ponds,
Vic 3217

A sociological gaze on ME/CFS: a modern malady in need of humane medicine

The paper is centred on the social processes which control the meanings of legitimation, or otherwise, of the ME/CFS illness phenomenon. The discussion is centred on a 'constructionist' sociological perspective that views individuals as social objects constructed within a particular historical period. Disease, Illness and Wellness are 'socially constructed' and ME/CFS is identified as an anomalous illness construct, strongly imbued with social meanings, derived from over five decades of political tensions between ME/CFS sufferers, medical science and the modern State.

The paper recognises the unique socialising forces that affect the professional conduct and the 'imagination' of medical practitioners who learn ritualistic ways of seeing and defining disease that influence professional understanding of the illness experiences of patients. The dominant paradigm of rational, positivist, bio-medical science has refused to legitimate diseases that fail rigorous scientific methods of detection, and as a consequence ME /CFS sufferers are denied medical closure and usually suffer social stigma when identified with the condition.

The paper argues that the medical profession needs to look beyond the set boundaries of its present, restrictive evidence-based paradigm of medical care and adopt a more humane, holistic model of clinical practice for ME/CFS sufferers. A change will avoid the problems associated with an over-medicalised image of the body, the blaming of sufferers for not getting well over time, the emergence of 'mental illness' explanations of ME/CFS (especially depressive and somatoform disorders), and stigma caused by ongoing denial by professional groups of the illness experience of ME/CFS sufferers.

In conclusion the emergence of activist ME/CFS patient support groups around the world is examined to assess the success, or otherwise, of their political challenge of the professional 'medical gaze' and challenge to governments to fund research, provide better access to welfare payments, sickness benefits, and show more respect for the rights of citizens with ME/CFS.


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