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November 19, 1982

Concepts of Health and Disease: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

JAMA. 1982;248(19):2528. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330190074048

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This anthology is well done. It consists of essays mainly by medical contributors and philosophers focusing on problems of values underlying various assumptions about health and disease. A few contributions by social scientists, among others the economist Victor Fuchs and the sociologist Talcott Parsons, add some analytical specificity to the discussion.

All authors agree that both health and disease are difficult to define although it would be important to do so since, as several point out, one has to know what disease is if one wants to know what is to be treated. However, physicians do not treat only diseases, a fact to which Leon Kass objects. According to him, pregnancy and childbirth, abortion, or plastic surgery for purely cosmetic reasons should not be the concern of physicians. He objects to the definition of the World Health Organization (whose constitution is also reproduced here) that health is "the state of