Literally, "make into a disease" (cf. pathology) This does not refer to an advanced genetic engineering practice, but rather to categorizing an observable phenomenon as abnormal and detrimental enough to be considered disease-like.

Some pathologization is objectively-based and unproblematic. For example, we have observed that when exposed to certain microorganisms, people frequently begin experiencing diarrhea leading to severe dehydration and, without treatment, death (see cholera). There is little question that this is an undesirable imbalancing of ordinary processes, hence, a disease.

However, some states or behaviors are only pathological relative to their cultural environment. The paradigmatic example of this is homosexuality: Prior to the 12th century, it was common for men to have sex with other men without being labeled or condemned in any way. Around this time, however, the Church and other institutions began opposing homosexuality, and by the early 20th century it was considered a deviance, a civil crime, and a sin against God. Until 1974, homosexuality was officially listed as a mental illness in the DSM, the diagnostic manual of the psychiatric profession. Today, American society is in the process of depathologizing homosexuality again.

An interesting example in the medical world is deafness. Doctors traditionally considered this a severe disability, to be ameliorated or treated in any way possible. But as neurological implants and genetic engineering have started to offer hope (still unrealized) of eliminating deafness, people in the deaf community have responded negatively to this view. They claim that their culture of sign language and elimination of aural cues is a legitimate way of life, which deserves neither pity nor pathologization. Lack of hearing is something most people automatically consider a frank disability. Regardless of your own opinion, the reaction of many activists (who by no means speak for all deaf people) raises questions about the nature of disease, the language of medical culture, and who gets to make the rules.

Currently, there is a lively debate regarding the extent to which most mental disorders should be pathologized, and to what extent our existing categories for them are valid. The writer at the forefront of the anti-pathology movement is Thomas Szasz. Another discussion involves the extent to which addiction is a distinct disorder, as opposed to an extreme but qualitatively normal behavior. The figurehead for this movement is Stanton Peele.

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