bioethics now

Consider what are sometimes cited as seminal events in the early history of bioethics: the Doctors’ Trial at Nuremberg, the Shana Alexander article in Life magazine ‘Who Should Decide?’ or the publication of the first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves [by the Boston Women’s Health Collective]. The first of these in particular is a historical contingency: we are lucky that the Allies won the war and the trial occurred, but it could have been otherwise. Bioethics has roots in the sort of historical contingencies that philosophy abhors. The other two are examples of the type of publications that even today keep the audience for bioethics considerably more egalitarian than just academics. Just as the public declared that ‘Ethics Committees’ should not play God and decide who lives and who dies, and women proclaimed that male gynecologists should not be allowed to make decisions for women concerning their own bodies, bioethics became a field of its own when it was removed from the academic realm of philosophers and joined the practical world of medicine, law, and public policy.

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