Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 327–344 | Cite as

Unifying diseases from a genetic point of view: the example of the genetic theory of infectious diseases

  • Marie Darrason


In the contemporary biomedical literature, every disease is considered genetic. This extension of the concept of genetic disease is usually interpreted either in a trivial or genocentrist sense, but it is never taken seriously as the expression of a genetic theory of disease. However, a group of French researchers defend the idea of a genetic theory of infectious diseases. By identifying four common genetic mechanisms (Mendelian predisposition to multiple infections, Mendelian predisposition to one infection, and major gene and polygenic predispositions), they attempt to unify infectious diseases from a genetic point of view. In this article, I analyze this explicit example of a genetic theory, which relies on mechanisms and is applied only to a specific category of diseases, what we call “a regional genetic theory.” I have three aims: to prove that a genetic theory of disease can be devoid of genocentrism, to consider the possibility of a genetic theory applied to every disease, and to introduce two hypotheses about the form that such a genetic theory could take by distinguishing between a genetic theory of diseases and a genetic theory of Disease. Finally, I suggest that network medicine could be an interesting framework for a genetic theory of Disease.


Geneticization Genetic disease Genocentrism Causal selection Disease mechanisms Disease explanation Disease theory 



This article is an expanded version of a paper presented at the International Philosophy of Medicine Roundtable in San Sebastian, Spain. I have greatly benefited from many discussions with the participants of the roundtable, especially with Fred Gifford. This paper also owes much to the many discussions with and very helpful comments from members of the Institut d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques (IHPST), namely, Jean Gayon, Thomas Pradeu, Maël Lemoine, and Hélène Richard. Finally, I would like to thank Julia Bursten for kindly correcting my English mistakes.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques (IHPST)Université ParisParisFrance

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