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What Is Interventionism?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2016
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Interventionism defines medical practices that extend or improve a patient’s quality of life. The term might involve treating disease through surgery, rehabilitation, fitting a prosthesis, gene therapy, and organ transplant. Interventionism sparks controversy when it refers to extending lives of terminal patients and saving premature infants likely to suffer multiple handicaps. Some critics claim inducing labor and cesarean births represent an unnecessary form of interventionism in some instances.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a form of interventionism that might save lives after a heart attack. CPR might restore heart rhythm and breathing after these functions cease, if started within five to 10 minutes. Using this procedure on patients with fatal illnesses could extend life, but might also prolong suffering and pain.

Use of a ventilator represents another form of medical intervention steeped in controversy. This breathing machine can completely take over respiration or help a patient struggling to breathe. A ventilator might perform artificial breathing for short periods, such as during surgery, or on a continuous basis. Without ventilation in terminal patients, respiration gets weaker and stops naturally.

Interventionism might also refer to nutrition and hydration in patients unable to eat or drink normally. It could involve a feeding tube or intravenous liquids when disease or injury prohibits swallowing. Without fluids, a patient typically becomes confused from lack of nutrients and dies within a couple of weeks. Nutritional intervention can prolong life, but might also cause fluid to build up in tissue.

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Dialysis to treat non-functioning kidneys is another form of medical interventionism. A machine can remove waste usually handled by the kidneys. Without dialysis, toxins could accumulate and damage other organs. This typically leads to heart failure and death.

Advances in medical science led to interventionism with premature infants born as early as 23 weeks' gestation and weighing just over 1 pound (about 0.45 kilograms). Babies delivered between 23 and 28 weeks into a pregnancy might be born with under-developed lungs, heart disorders, and brain damage. Many of these babies die shortly after birth, and have sparked discussion over procedures that delay death. Those that live might suffer various disabilities and handicaps.

Intervening in childbirth defines another form of interventionism. Some doctors use drugs to induce labor contractions in overdue patients. They also might deliver infants by cesarean procedures, representing major surgery. Critics of these forms of interventions point to research showing these actions provide no health benefits to infants. They believe these interventions are based more on convenience than medical necessity in some cases.

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