Bioethics Blogs

Arguing with Justice: Brexit and Biomedicine by Rosalind Williams

The aftermath of the UK’s recent referendum on European Union (EU) membership, which culminated in a decision for Britain to leave the EU, reminds us of Britain’s bleak history of racism, and should prompt us to reflect upon the political visions of justice that underlie current constitutions of biomedicine.

For many, the outcome of the ‘Brexit’ referendum was justice turned on its head. After the Leave vote won with a 52% majority, social commentators argued that Brexit is an injustice to Britain’s youth—those who will live the longest with the outcome of the referendum wanted to remain in the EU, which bears out in the early retrospective analysis of voter demographics. But the Leave campaign also appealed to justice by arguing that the EU had morphed into a force for “social injustice” as Brussels turned its back on “economic common sense”. The most toxic claims came from those who appealed to a kind of natural right, couched in English nationalism, about who belonged in the UK.

In the wake of these claims on justice, it is, we suggest, time that scholars working at the intersection of science and medicine argue with justice. Similar to other recent arguments about science and justice, we choose these words deliberately. Arguments are often made by using justice (for example, by mobilising the language of “social injustice” to argue against the EU). But scholarship doesn’t as freely spend time arguing with justice—interrogating this unwieldy but thoroughly seductive motif.

At this intersection between Brexit, science and health, it comes clearly into relief that biomedicine is about much more than patients and clinicians, or research participants and investigators.

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.