Bioethics and the reinforcement of socio-technical expectations.
Social studies of science 2010 Apr ; 40(2): 163-86
Over the past few years, considerable interest has been paid to the way in which social expectations (hopes, hypes, fears) about new genomic technologies help shape, and in themselves are shaped by, emerging technologies, regulatory regimes and social concerns. In comparison, little attention has been paid to the role of expectations in related, but non-scientific discourses, such as bioethics. Drawing on a review of publications addressing the ethical issues associated with pharmacogenetics, this paper presents a detailed critique of bioethicists' contribution to these debates. The review highlights how, almost a decade after bioethical debate around pharmacogenetics started, and in contrast to the profession's self-perception as a form of regulator, bioethicists still largely restrict themselves to reviews of possible ethical issues raised by this technology, rather than critiquing others' positions and arguing for specific points of view. In addition the paper argues that bioethicists tend to: accept unquestioningly scientists' expectations about the development and ethical issues raised by pharmacogenetics; ignore contributions from bioethicists who do question these expectations; and engage in an ethical debate, the boundaries of which have been laid down and defined by academic and industry scientists. The paper concludes by offering some possible explanations for why the bioethical discourse has taken this form.
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