The WHO Definition of “Health”

Daniel Callahan

in The Roots of Bioethics

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199931378
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199980598 | DOI:
The WHO Definition of “Health”

Show Summary Details


The 1947 World Health Organization definition of health, encompassing not just physical health but complete social well-being, has been widely criticized. The leading objections are that such a definition turns all of human life and its miseries, political or economic, into health problems, including that of world peace. It would no less seem to place physicians in the role of gate keepers to that kind of ideological hegemony. Nonetheless, there is still something to be said for that definition. Health encompasses more than physical well-being. It is a necessary ingredient for the pursuit of other human goods (even if it is possible for sick people to continuing to function and even to be reasonably happy). The challenge is to find a way to encompass the insight that health has a broad role in our lives and society without exaggerating its importance, that of tending to reduce all human problems to health issues, thus making health either an almost meaningless concept or a tyrannical one.

Keywords: health; who; body; self; ideology; illness

Chapter.  6362 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.