Bioethics Blogs

Pinker Bioethics: What Should We Learn?

Julian Savulescu 
Twitter @juliansavulescu

Steven Pinker has recently written an op-ed questioning the contribution of bioethics to the safe and efficient regulation of research. This has been widely misinterpreted and criticised, though Alice Dreger has written a recent accurate blog in support of Pinker. Pinker provocatively said that bioethics should get out of the way of research. This has been interpreted to mean that we should give up ethics review of research. Nobody, not me, and not Steven Pinker, thinks we should abandon ethical review of research. He actually says, ” Of course, individuals must be protected from identifiable harm, but we already have ample safeguards for the safety and informed consent of patients and research subjects.” Pinker is objecting to the unnecessary, unproductive obstruction that much bioethics represents to good research and regulation.

I largely agree with him and have said as much myself over the years. I recently wrote a piece for the anniversary issue of the JME arguing as much. I applaud him for trying to generate some self-reflection in the field.

Two of the cases which are held up as showing the need for bioethics are those of gene therapy death victim Jesse Gelsinger and Asthma study death victim Ellen Roache.

That is exactly right – they show the need for good bioethics. However it was bad and sloppy bioethics that failed to prevent their deaths. I have previously argued that it was a mistake to enrol patients with the mild form of the disease Gelsinger was suffering from, rather than babies with the lethal form of disease.

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.