Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 17–29 | Cite as

The myth of technology in health care

  • Bjørn HofmannEmail author


Technology is believed to have liberated health care from dogmas, myths and speculations of earlier times. However, we are accused of using technology in an excessive, futile and even detrimental way, as if technology is compelling our actions. It appears to be like the monster threatening Dr. Frankenstein or like the socerer’s broom in the hand of the apprentice. That is, the same technology that should liberate us from myths, appears to be mythical. The objective of this article is to investigate the background for the re-entrance of the myth: How we encounter it and how we can explain it. The main point is that a myth of technology is normative: it relates ‘is’ and ‘ought’ and directs our actions. This becomes particularly clear in health care. Hence, if there is a myth of technology, it is an ethical issue, and should be taken seriously.


myth technology ethics body technological imperative 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Reiser, S.J. (1978) Medicine and the Reign of Technology. Cambridge University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ellul, J. (1964) The Technological Society, Alfred A. Knopf, New York.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Winner, L. (1977) Autonomous Technology, MIT Press, Cambridge MA.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Mitcham, C. (1994) Thinking through Technology. The Path between Engineering and Philosophy. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Smith, M.R. and Marx, L. (1994) Does technology drive history?: the dilemma of technological determinism, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bennett, I.L. (1977) Technology as a shaping force, in: Knowles, J.H. (ed.) Doing better and feeling worse, Norton & Co., New York, pp. 125–133.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Tymstra, T. (1989) The imperative character of medical technology and the meaning of “anticipated decision regret”, Int J of Technology Assessment in health Care 5: 207–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Cassell, E.J. (1993) The Sorcerer’s Broom. Medicine’s Rampant Technology, Hastings Center Report 23: 32–39.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Rothman, D.J. (1997) Beginnings count: the technological imperative in American health care, Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Callahan, D. (1996) The Goals of Medicine: Setting New Priorities, Hastings Center Report 18.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Illich, I. (1975) Medical Nemesis: The Expropriation of Health. Calder and Boyars, London.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Lewis, T. (1977) On the science and technology of medicine. in: Knowles, J.H. (ed.). Doing better and feeling worse, Norton & Co., New York, pp. 35–46.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Jennett, B. (1986) High technology medicine — benefits and burdens. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Payer, L. (1992) Disease Mongers: How Doctors, Drug Companies, and Insurers Are Making You Feel Sick, John Wiley & Sons, New York.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Schneidermann, L.J. and Jecker, N.S. (1995) Wrong Medicine: Doctors, Patients and Futile Treatment, Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Fischer, E.S. and Welch, H.G. (1999) Avoiding the Unintended Consequences of Growth in Medical Care. JAMA 281: 446–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Thomas, L. (1977) On the Science and Technology of Medicine, in: Knowles, J.H. (ed.) Doing Better and Feeling Worse: Health in the United States, W.W. Norton, New York.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Hellerstein, D. (1983) Overdosing on medical technology, Technol Rev 86: 12–7.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Davidson, S.N. (1995) Technological Cancer: Its Causes and Treatment., Healtcare Forum J 38: 52–58.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Muraskas, J., Marshall, P.A., Tomich, P., Myers, T.F., Gianopoulos, J.G. and Thomasma, D.C. (1999) Neonatal Viability in the 1990s: held Hostage by Technology. Camb Q Healthc Ethics (United States) 8: 160–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Willis, J. (1995) The Paradox of Progress. New York: Radcliffe Medical Press.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Dworkin G. (1982) Is more choice better than less? Midwest Studies in Philosophy, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN., vol. 7: 47–62.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Jonsen, A.R. (1988). What Does Life Support Support? in: Winslade, W. (ed.). Personal Choices and Public Commitments: Perspectives on the Humanities, Insitute for the Medical Humanities, Galveston, TX.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Johnson, A.G. (1994) Surgery as a placebo. Lancet 344: 1140–2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Horkheimer, M. and Adorno, T.W. (1972) Dialectic of enlightenment, Continuum, New York.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Wright, GHv. (1993) [Myten om framsteget], Bonnier, Stockholm.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Hanson, M..J. and Callahan, D. (1999) The Goals of Medicine: The Forgotten Issues in Health Care Reform. Georgetown University Press, Washington DC.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Marx, L. and Mazlish, B. (eds.) (1996) Progress: Fact or Illusion? The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Davis, E. (1999) Techgnosis: Myth, Magic + Mysticism in the Age of Information. Serpent’s Tail, London.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Stivers, R. (1999) Technology as Magic: The Triumph of the Irrational. Continuum Pub Group.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Album, D. (1991) [The prestige of diseases and medical specialities]. Tidsskr Nor Lœgeforen 111: 2127–33.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Blume, S.S. (1992) Insight and Industry. On the Dynamics of Technological Change in Medicine, The MIT Press, Cambridge MA.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Mørland, B. (1999) [Assessment of new technology in continuous change]. In Norwegian, The Norwegian Centre for Health Technology Assessment, Oslo.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Hofmann, B. (2001) The technological invention of disease, Journal of Medical Ethics: Medical Humanities 27: 10–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Heidegger M. (1954) Die Frage nach der Technik, in: Heidegger M. Vorträge und Aufsätze. Pfullingen: Günther Neske. Translated by William Lovitt under the title “The question Concerning Technology” (1977) in: The Question Concerning technology and Other Essays. Harper & Row, San Francisco.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Ihde, D. (1990) Technology and The Lifeworld: From Garden to Earth, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Opragen Publications 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Medical Ethics, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

Personalised recommendations