Half the modern drugs could well be thrown out the window
except that the birds might eat them. – Martin H. Fischer
We ran across these recently while browsing Flickr – images from a large artwork depicting “the life histories of a man and woman, illustrated by the medicines they take from birth to death.” Created by Susie Freeman (a textile artist), David Critchley (a video artist) and Liz Lee (a physician) working together under the name Pharmacopoeia, Cradle to Grave was created in 2003 and installed at the British Museum.
Cradle to Grave incorporates evidence of the medicalization of ordinary life. We take pills to treat unhappiness, obesity, smoking addiction, to control natural events such as the menopause and these are important issues that our society needs to debate. Perhaps even more importantly, Cradle to Grave demonstrates our commitment to the medicalization of old age. As the body begins to fail, we turn to pharmaceutically active chemicals to preserve and extend life. We minimize the suffering of old age by medicating it. But this does raise questions on the earlier years when we are not considering long-term health, nor being concerned with health itself and only reacting to acute and crucial situations.
In the end we are asked to consider the deeply complex relationship we have with prescription drugs. They are both wonderful and dangerous. They allow us to live longer, they allow us to suffer less, but they may also offer false promises of happiness and health and immortality that they cannot possibly deliver. In this they are more like the spirits and gods of other cultures than we care to believe.
You can see more examples of their work here.
It’s interesting – if sad and sobering – to think of how much larger this already enormous work would be if the subjects were Americans. For the US remains the druggiest country in the world (PDF).
According to The Commonwealth Fund 2010 International Health Policy Survey in 11 Countries, adults in the U.S. were the most likely to take at least one prescription drug regularly (61%) and to take at least four prescription drugs regularly (25%).