CBSSM Seminar – Michigan Medicine Headlines

All Michigan Medicine faculty and staff are invited to the next seminar hosted by the Center of Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine. 

The topic of the event will be “Is a holistic definition of health too dangerous?” It will be held from 2 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 8 at NCRC Building 16, Room 266C. 

The seminar will be delivered by Sean Valles, Ph.D., director and associate professor for the Center for Bioethics and Social Justice in the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University.

His presentation challenges the position that holistic definitions of health are too socially dangerous to use widely in biomedicine or public health practice. Holistic definitions of health, such as the World Health Organization’s definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” have been criticized for a variety of reasons. 

Valles’  previous work has adopted and defended a variation on this definition. One key critique is that adopting such a definition creates social risks that are not introduced by narrower definitions of health. 

Critics argue that a broad holistic definition of health can serve as a grounding for healthism, the ideology that prioritizes health over all else and seeks to promote it through intrusive surveillance, oppressive moralistic judgments and pervasive interventions into everyday life. For instance, wellness culture in the U.S. has oppressively stigmatized people with fat bodies. 

Valles argues that the undesirable features of healthism are, unfortunately, equally compatible with a narrower definition of health; this is illustrated in the debates over restrictive COVID-19 pandemic policies. Vlles concludes by arguing that opposition to holistic definitions of health is also partly a misguided reaction to distrust in communities’ capacities to define and promote health/well-being in non-oppressive ways (e.g. concerns that communities will promote holistic sexual health/well-being in ways that are sexist or heterosexist).

See you there!