chapter  6
22 Pages

Life, Death, and the Commodification of Health Care in China

WithChristopher J. Smith

This chapter analyzes changes in the Chinese health care system during the reform era. The reforms have brought meaningful benefits to many Chinese, yet they have also carried some of the "unforeseen consequences" that Rene Dubos forewarned in the epigraph. There is evidence that some dubious practices have emerged as a consequence of the commodification of medicine in China. The most troublesome issue in the debate about the commodification of medical services is the quality of medical care, and the concern is that cost rather than quality has become the primary consideration. In the domain of medicine Mao Zedong preferred, rather than Western-trained medical doctors, a workforce of individuals whose political loyalties were beyond reproach. The 1980s bore witness to a rapid technology transfer into much of Chinese society generally, and the medical system has been at the forefront of that process. Some of China's cities, Shanghai in particular, already have the highest death rate from lung cancer in the world.