Defining the Boundaries of Disease

Date: Thursday – Friday 15 – 16 October 2015
Venue: Dunmore Lang College, Macquarie University
Time: 09:00 – 17:00

A two-day multi-disciplinary conference will be held at Macquarie University, Sydney, on October 15-16, 2015. This conference brings together scholars in the philosophy of medicine together with practicing clinicians in discussing just where, and why, the boundaries of disease should be set.


Wendy Rogers (Macquarie University)
Mary Walker (Macquarie University)

Confirmed participants:

Wendy Craig (Department of Surgery, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary)
Jenny Doust (Centre for Research in Evidence-based Practice, Bond University)
Wendy Rogers (Philosophy Department and Australian School of Advanced Medicine, Macquarie University)
Thomas Schramme (Department of Philosophy, University of Hamburg)
Mary Walker (Philosophy Department, Macquarie University)

Questions relating to what should and should not be counted as disease, and where exactly the boundary between disease and non-disease should lie, are critical to the provision of appropriate health care. However, these questions have become increasingly complex with changes in medical knowledge and diagnostic technologies. The distinction between risk factor and disease has become blurred; common diseases have been redefined expansively (e.g. type 2 diabetes or chronic kidney disease); and sophisticated diagnostic tests now detect abnormalities which may or may not have pathological implications.

Responding to these questions requires engaging with medical and scientific knowledge and with the philosophical literature on disease definition. But these are not merely interesting academic questions: there are serious practical implications to setting disease boundaries. Where is the ‘right’ place for these boundaries, such that patients receive appropriate treatments to avoid excess morbidity and mortality, while avoiding the harms of overdiagnosis and overtreatment?

PROVISIONAL Program (As of 17 Sept):

Thursday 15 October:

09:15 – 10:45 : Welcome and introduction

10:45 – 10:45 : Thomas Schramme, “Delineating disease from a naturalist point of view.”

10:45 – 11:15 : Morning tea

11:15 – 12:15 : Wendy Rogers and Mary Rogers, “The line drawing problem.”

12:15 – 13:15 : Rachel Ankeny, “Geneticisation in the OMIM: Distinguishing Disease from Variation.”

13:15 – 14:00 : Lunch

14:00 – 14:45 : Jenny Doust, “When should we agree to changes to disease boundaries?”

14:45 – 15:30 : Lynette Reid, “Truth or spin? Disease definition in cancer screening.”

15:30 – 16:00 : Afternoon tea

16:00 – 16:45 : Wendy Craig, “Thyroid Cancer: an opportunity to redefine disease.”

18:30 : Conference dinner

Friday 16 October:

09:00 – 10:00 : Patrick McGivern and Sarah Sorial, “Harm and Disease.”

10:00 – 11:00 : John Mathewson and Paul Griffiths, “Boundaries from biology.”

11:00 – 11:30 : Morning tea

11:30 – 12:30 : Stacy Carter and Chris Degeling, “A negotiated, sociotechnical, outcomes-oriented approach to diagnosing health-related conditions

12:30 – 13:30 : Lunch

13:30 – 15:00 : Panel: “Implications of the boundary issue in five research areas:

Lanei Alexander (Obesity)
Yves Aquino (Asian cosmetic surgery)
Nikki Coleman (lyme disease)
Harry Schone (fibromyalgia)
Anke Snoek (addiction)
15:00 – 15:30 : Afternoon tea

15:30 – 16:30 : Summary and closing comments

Program for download [PDF KB]
Abstracts [PDF 87KB]

Contact: Mary Walker

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