What is Health and Human Flourishing? The CBHD 20th Anniversary Summer Conference


If I were to ask you to define “health,” what would you say? How do you know when you’re healthy? I’d like to talk about definitions of health, and why it matters.  The New Oxford American Dictionary is pretty straightforward: “the state of being free from illness or injury.”[1] That concept of health is changing.

The World Health Organization defines health as “a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”[2] As you can see, this raises the bar. How do we attain a complete state of not only physical and mental, but also social well-being? The scope of “health” has expanded significantly.

Another definition of health, this time from Australia, goes even further. It expands ‘mental health’ to include the social, emotional, and cultural well-being of the whole community.[3] According to this view, health is not between you and your doctor, but also you and your community.

Perhaps these definitions leave you somewhat confused, or you might say “what does it matter?” Well, what we think about “health” has a lot to do with the choices we make. Health might mean postponing the natural effects of aging, behavior modification for energetic boys, using drugs to overcome the results of our poor choices such as staying up too late, enhancing facial features, compensating for the natural loss of libido, and on and on. More and more of our life is being “medicalized,” that is, seen as a problem that medicine can fix.

The pursuit of eternal youth and perfection can blind us to a better way, a way that leads  to truly human flourishing. A better way respects both our individual dignity and our common humanity. As Christians, we are invited to think more carefully about an alternative to radical autonomy that puts our bodies and our desires front and center. In a biotech world that offers an endless parade of ways to improve ourselves—to be good to ourselves—how do we what’s right?

The good news is that you can learn from the experts. Come to our 20th anniversary conference at The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, on “Health and Human Flourishing.” Our speakers include Cardinal George from the Archdiocese of Chicago, Dr. Allen Verhey from Duke, Dr. William Hurlbut from Stanford, and Dr. Bart Cusveller from the Lindeboom Institute in the Netherlands. They will dig into the questions of the changing definition of health and the impact of that on human flourishing. A panel will explore health and human flourishing through the lens of disability, physical health, patient care, research ethics, and mental health.

We have workshops sponsored by Americans United for Life, Joni and Friends, Nurses Christian Fellowship, Nightlight Christian Adoptions, and Family Research Council. You can find more information at our website, cbhd.org.

There will be something for every Christian who wants to learn how to live….not a perfect life, but a genuinely healthy one.

[1] New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd ed., s.v. “Health.” 

[2] Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948. Available at http://www.who.int/about/definition/en/print.html.

[3] Swan, P. and B. Raphael. “’Ways forward’: National Consultancy Report on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health.” Canberra, AU: Commonwealth of Australia, 1995. Available at http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/8AE2DAC350E39315CA257276001CAACA/$File/wayforw.pdf



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