Bioethics Blogs

Is It Possible To Do Bioethics In Contemporary America?

Ok, I realize I am being somewhat provocative. But there is
a real and very serious issue, which I am groping to address in a more precise

In my last blog I described the contemporary moral setting
from a philosophical perspective as one in which no single substantive normative
moral perspective can resolve moral questions, such as the boundaries of human
life and the scope of individual rights, with final moral authority. This is
just to say, more simply and obviously when we reflect upon it, that in democratic,
secular America, ethics, both philosophically and practically, becomes
inextricably linked to public discourse in politics and public policy.

When bioethicists ask questions and make arguments about
abortion, physician assisted suicide, stem cell research and cloning, and many
other similar issues that pertain to questions about the value of human life in
relation to both individual rights and societal goals, we have no privileged
moral authority from which to draw. As bioethicists we engage in procedural,
persuasive discourse, based on conventional moral principles that most often
conflict, which is why there is moral dilemma or problem requiring analysis and
prioritization. Our purpose in defending a particular moral position is to win
assent from others. In short, for a bioethicist to promote a moral position, it
is implicitly an attempt to build a consensus among readers and listeners that
will hopefully impact public opinion about a particular moral problem or
question. Moreover, to the extent these questions have public policy
ramifications, and practically all do, it means that moral discourse is also
oriented to effect change and function as a medium in which bioethicists often
speak as advocates about how moral options should be framed as public policy
positions in a democratic society.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.