Bioethics Blogs

Paternalists at the Gate: Those With Privilege Fight to Keep It

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

One of the main concepts that most medical ethics instructors teach to their students is that of autonomy—self governance. I usually explain that this evolved in response to the age of paternalistic medicine. During the civil rights movement, where voiceless groups were demanding a voice, patients were among those who received a voice through autonomy. However, recent legislation suggests that the age of paternalism has returned anew, but this time medical authority is wielded by legislators and not physicians trying to ensure their continued privilege in society.

Consider that the state of Indiana signed a bill that makes it illegal for a person to have an abortion on the basis of a test that shows the fetus has “disability or defect such as Down syndrome.” This is the second law of its kind in the nation, following on North Dakota’s “fetal anomaly” ban in 2013. Seven states (AZ, KS, NC, ND, OK, PA, SD; IL after viability) already ban abortion for sex selection (AZ also bans for race selection) and 4 states (AZ, KS, MN, OK) require counseling on “perinatal hospice services” in the event of a “lethal fetal abnormality.”

Republican members of the House of Representatives’ House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives have begun an inquiry into medical laboratories. The panel is asking for the names of all personnel involved with fetal tissue research including principle investigators, students and even administrative assistants. The Panel was created in light of the concocted allegations that Planned Parenthood was allegedly selling fetal parts and performing abortions to make parts available.

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.