Toward a Theological Understanding of Health and Disease

Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 31 (1):161-178 (2011)
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The concepts of health and disease are foundational to biomedical ethics. This essay critiques two widely used approaches to understanding health and disease: the World Health Organization definition of health as "complete physical, mental and social well-being," and the attempts by Thomas Szasz and Christopher Boorse to define health and disease in objective, value-free terms. Drawing particularly on the thought of Karl Barth, I argue that in Christian perspective, health must be understood in terms of the goods and goals toward which human life is directed, which must themselves be understood in terms of God's good purposes made known in Christ. We are called to "will to be healthy" and resist disease, but understanding what this entails in particular concrete situations requires skills and habits of attentiveness to God's command, cultivated in the context of the Christian community and its practices.



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