February 10, 2010

SALLY SATEL: The Limits Of Bioethics.

In the case of bioethicists, the nature of the subject about which they claim authority is up for debate. Traditionally, they have focused on the controversies surrounding biomedical technology, such as cloning, sex selection, in vitro fertilization, nanotechnology, research ethics, organ allocation, and so on. Now experts are calling for involvement in policy. Renee Fox and Judith P. Swazey, senior scholars who have studied the sociology and history of bioethics, urge a focus on “inequalities in health and in access to health care in America.” The field is too “narrowly American-ocentric,” they write in their 2008 book Observing Bioethics; it should become “more centrally and deeply involved with [global] suffering and issues of social justice.” In his new book The Future of Bioethics, Howard Brody, a physician and philosopher at the University of Texas Medical Branch, instructs bioethicists to gauge success by asking themselves if they are “speaking truth to power.” These prescriptions presume a moral authority that bioethicists cannot properly claim.

I’ve never been convinced that bioethicists have any particular expertise at all.

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