Personalized medicine: evidence of normativity in its quantitative definition of health

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 37 (5):401-416 (2016)
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Systems medicine, which is based on computational modelling of biological systems, is emerging as an increasingly prominent part of the personalized medicine movement. It is often promoted as ‘P4 medicine’. In this article, we test promises made by some of its proponents that systems medicine will be able to develop a scientific, quantitative metric for wellness that will eliminate the purported vagueness, ambiguity, and incompleteness—that is, normativity—of previous health definitions. We do so by examining the most concrete and relevant evidence for such a metric available: a patent that describes a systems medicine method for assessing health and disease. We find that although systems medicine is promoted as heralding an era of transformative scientific objectivity, its definition of health seems at present still normatively based. As such, we argue that it will be open to influence from various stakeholders and that its purported objectivity may conceal important scientific, philosophical, and political issues. We also argue that this is an example of a general trend within biomedicine to create overly hopeful visions and expectations for the future.



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