2010 CBHD Conference: Redefining “Health”


“This is interesting stuff, but it doesn’t relate to anything in my life.”

“I’m a doctor. I need help on issues that come up in my practice.”

These are a couple of reasons people give for not coming to The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity’s 2010 summer conference. Our theme is “Beyond Therapy: Exploring Enhancement and Human Futures.” Perhaps you’ve read the statement about our conference, which explores the way that “scientific discoveries and technological innovations are transforming the nature of biomedicine and revolutionizing the expectations for biotechnology.”

“Oh,” you might say, “that’s way too technical for me.” It doesn’t have to be. Let me unpack what this conference means for you, me and the people we care about.

There is a massive change going on, a redefinition of “health.” If you think that health means getting your immunizations, washing your hands, and having your checkup, mammogram, and colonoscopy, you’re living in the past. If you think that the doctor’s therapeutic role is to dispense antibiotics, set broken bones, and remove diseased gall bladders, you’re only partly correct. The World Health Organization has defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” For the sake of “complete well-being,” we have medicalized every aspect of human activity.

As medicine and technology unfold their latest innovations, our expectations rise. We are no longer content with just feeling better. The “get well” card is outdated. We don’t want to be well. We want to be “better than well,” as Carl Elliott puts it.

What does “better than well” look like? We can fix our personalities with Paxil. We can fix our naturally declining sex drive with Viagra. We can fix our naturally sagging faces with Botox. The desperate, celebrity-induced efforts to postpone the effects of aging tempt all of us to drink from the same fountain of youth.

Meanwhile, other technologies combine to engineer stronger bodies and smarter minds. These convergence technologies use the acronym NBIC: nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science. Some NBIC innovators seek to transcend our human biology. There’s a pervasive sense that there is something deficient in our bodies, in the way God designed us, and we need to use technology to overcome these limitations of finitude.

CBHD has a stellar group of speakers to help us unpack these profound concerns. Dr Bill Hurlbut, a former member of the President’s Council on Bioethics will open with a talk on the dignity of our human bodies. Amy Laura Hall from Duke Divinity School closes with a challenge on the pursuit of perfect mothers and perfect children. In between, we’ll get to hear about genes and race, living in a digitized world, the dusk of the physician/patient relationship, and Hollywood’s silver screen interpretations.

So, if you’ve ever thought about having a better personality, a better body, or a better brain, this conference is for you. If your patients have made one of these requests, this conference is for you.[1]

[1] For more information on CBHD’s 2010 Annual Summer Conference or for links to order the audio set from this conference, please visit http://cbhd.org/events/beyond-therapy.


Everyday Bioethics Audio Commentary Album Art