The Sick Role Theory developed by Talcott Parsons in 1951 has remained a substantial trace in modern sociology. The researcher claimed that a sick role is a form of deviant conduct allowing humans to diverge from obligatory social tasks from time to time. The four characteristics of the sick role model are legitimization of the disease, absence of human responsibility for the disease (no control over the disease), the aim to get better, and the search for medical help. However, a variety of sociologists found the shortcomings of the model as it cannot be implemented to every disorder.
For instance, patients with high cholesterol levels and with no evidence of heart disease can be hardly related to the model. Generally, hypercholesterolemia is a risk condition of developing atherosclerosis and consequently heart disorders. People with a predisposition to the commonly known disorders cannot be perceived as sick if they have not developed any symptoms. So, the person with an elevated level of blood cholesterol cannot receive the legitimization of his condition as it is not a disease yet. At the same time, this contingent of patients should take action to enhance their condition: change lifestyle, eat more fruits and vegetables, cut fast carbohydrates, increase daily activities, take polyunsaturated fatty acids, and control the blood tests. Regarding human responsibilities, except for inheritable types of hypertriglyceridemia, people are answerable for their lifestyle and food preferences, and the majority of the population having elevated cholesterol levels leads unhealthy habits. The strive to get better and search for medical help are matching Person’s model.
Concerning the genetic predisposition to cancer, the sick role model does not fully correlate with this pathology. For example, BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are proved to have a high correlation with breast cancer initiation (Winters et al. 2). According to the sick role model, a person can get a legitimatization of the genetic predisposition; however, like in the previous example, if cancer has not got the chance to develop, the person cannot be perceived as sick. Cancer is a multifactorial disorder developing in combination with genetic and environmental factors, and it is complicated to predict if the carrier of the BRCA gene will have breast cancer or not. Nevertheless, the human carrying the gene has indeed to control and responsibility for inheriting it. Identifying the gene carrier can increase motivation to strive for the possible disorder and prevent the development of the illness. A patient can seek medical help and discuss the possible tactic which is frequently mastectomy.
Thus, the sick role theory by Talcott Parsons takes a significant place in sociology and emphasizes human deviation behavior which can be met in current society. People by their nature can make excuses using their sickness or specialties of social status to avoid sanctions or restrictions. Still, not all the diseases fit the model of the scientist as some conditions are not causing yet any symptoms but have to be treated anyway. Moreover, not always people have no control over the disease beginning as is seen in the example of the genetic predisposition to breast cancer.
Winters, Stella et al. “Breast Cancer Epidemiology, Prevention, and Screening.” Progress in molecular biology and translational science, vol. 151, 2017, pp. 1-32. Web.