Medicine Studies 3 (1):53-70 (2011)
AbstractMedical classification systems aim to provide a manageable taxonomy for sorting diagnoses into their proper classes. The question, this paper wants to critically examine, is how to correctly systematise diseases within classification systems that are applied in a variety of different settings. ICD and DSM , the two major classification systems in medicine and psychiatry, will be the main subjects of this paper; however, the arguments are not restricted to these classification systems but point out general methodological and epistemological challenges of classifying diseases for differing purposes. Deciding what qualifies as a disease to be included into a classification system as well as choosing a specific validator for correctly systematising diseases is complicated because the broad applicability of medical classification systems simultaneously appears as aim and challenge. Drawing upon the case study of classifying Alzheimer’s disease, this paper will address three dilemmas in designing ‘good’ medical classification systems. They are due to general epistemological problems of medicine, such as the relationship between individual manifestations of diseases and the necessity of building groups in order to scientifically elucidate causes of diseases. Moreover, they involve pragmatic issues of designing usable classifications that allow for easily discriminating between classes of diseases, restricting, however, the completeness of disease representations. This paper wants to trace how the choice of certain validators is unavoidably value-laden and deeply intertwined with epistemological assumptions of how different uses relate to each other, resulting either in a prioritisation of (constrained) coherence or of (vague) pluralistic connectibility
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