Is pregnancy a disease? A normative approach

Journal of Medical Ethics (forthcoming)
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In this paper, we identify some key features of what makes something a disease, and consider whether these apply to pregnancy. We argue that there are some compelling grounds for regarding pregnancy as a disease. Like a disease, pregnancy affects the health of the pregnant person, causing a range of symptoms from discomfort to death. Like a disease, pregnancy can be treated medically. Like a disease, pregnancy is caused by a pathogen, an external organism invading the host’s body. Like a disease, the risk of getting pregnant can be reduced by using prophylactic measures. We address the question of whether the ‘normality’ of pregnancy, its current necessity for human survival, or the value often attached to it are reasons to reject the view that pregnancy is a disease. We point out that applying theories of disease to the case of pregnancy, can in many cases illuminate inconsistencies and problems within these theories. Finally, we show that it is difficult to find one theory of disease that captures all paradigm cases of diseases, while convincingly excluding pregnancy. We conclude that there are both normative and pragmatic reasons to consider pregnancy a disease.

Author Profiles

Anna Smajdor
University of Oslo
Joona Räsänen
University of Turku


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