Bioethics Blogs

Bioethics: The Revolution is Over

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

At the recent 17th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Bioethics & Humanities, the association honored Baruch Brody with the Lifetime Achievement Award. During his address, Brody said that we are in the era of “normal” bioethics. The age of the revolutionary nature of this field is long over.

Brody talked about Thomas Kuhn’s, “The Structure of Scientific Revolution.” In this tome, Kuhn talks about two types of science—normal and revolutionary. Revolutionary science is what happens when an accumulation of data and observations shows that the world does not work as theory predicts. As an example, Kuhn talks about how when subatomic particles were discovered, the prevalent theory of physics—Newtonian physics—could not explain the behavior of these very small particles. This forced a creative revolution that led to the positing of quantum mechanics from which Einstein found the general theory of relativity and even today, physicists search for the grand unified theory.

But once a new theory is proposed and accepted, the work of science moves to normal science where the theory is further proven, refined and its implications and applications are explored. For example, in 2012 the predicted Higgs Boson was discovered at CERN. In 2011, the results of the Gravity Probe B project proved that Einstein’s predictions about the behavior of gravity around an object in space.

Brody described the founding of bioethics as a moment of revolution. Bioethics moved philosophy out of the ivory tower and into the clinic; it connected humanities scholars with government panels and the media; and it shifted the focus from doctors paternalistically making decisions to patient autonomy.

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.