Bioethics Blogs

Bioethics faces a rocky but navigable road

by Arthur Caplan, Ph.D.

Academic bioethics has never been popular with Republicans.  Libertarians dislike academic bioethics because it seems too elitist and anti-free market.  Religious thinkers worry it is technocratic, soulless and crassly utilitarian.  Now with Trumpism add a populist disdain for expertise, experts and the scientific method and you have a stew that means few of you reading this will find a rapt audience in Washington for many years to come.

Trump needs to appease the paleocons and religious righ to get things done.  This makes it likely that bioethics will be swept back into the culture wars of the Bush era — Abortion. Contraception. Sexuality. Embryo research.  Gene engineering.  Enhancement issues.  Chimera formation.   Gender reassignment.   All are back on the table.

Existing oversight of human research—FDA, OHRP, ETC., will be strongly challenged as too restrictive and inimical to autonomy. “Conscience” will be very much in vogue.  The vaccine wars will heat up in terms of mandates and choice.  Individual rights will dominate arguments favoring the public good. Public health ethics will become hugely contentious.

Trump and a GOP congress mean the end of the ACA.  Academic bioethics will be more ‘oppositional’, more concerned for the vulnerable while being accused of being both elitist and overtly partisan.

In policy there will be more disrespect in government  for science, ‘facts’ and scientific expertise. Worries about COI will wane.

This means a rejection of scientific consensus about climate, vaccines, evolution.  The need for clinical trials to gain access to drugs or devices will be challenged—hard.

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.