“Ivan Illich’s Medical Nemesis and the ‘Age of the Show’: On the Expropriation of Death.” Nursing Philosophy. 19/1 (2018): 1-13.


Continental Philosophy | Ethics and Political Philosophy | Medical Humanities | Nursing | Philosophy | Public Health and Community Nursing


What Ivan Illich regarded in his Medical Nemesis as the ‘expropriation of health’ is exacerbated by the screens all around us, including our phones but also the patient monitors and increasingly the iPads that intervene between nurse and patient. To explore what Illich called the ‘age of the show’, this essay uses film examples, like Creed and the controversial documentary Vaxxed, and the television series Nurse Jackie. Rocky’s cancer in his last film (and his option to submit to chemo to ‘fight’ cancer) highlights what Illich along with Petr Skrabanek called the ‘expropriation of death’. In contrast to what Illich denotes as ‘Umsonstigkeit’ – grace or gift, given freely, gratuitously – medical science tends to be tempted by what Illich terms scientistic ‘black magic’, taking over (expropriating) the life (and death) of the patient in increasingly technological ways, a point underscored in the concluding section on the commercial prospects of xenotransplants using factory farm produced human-pig hybrids or chimeras.



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