Bioethics as Politics: The Limits of Moral Expertise
Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 2005 September; 15(3): 305-322
The increasing reliance upon, and perhaps the growing public and professional skepticism about, the special expertise of bioethicists suggests the need to consider the limits of moral expertise. For all the talk about method in bioethics, we, bioethicists, are still rather far off the mark in understanding what we are doing, even when we may be going about what we are doing fairly well. Quite often, what is most fundamentally at stake, but equally often insufficiently acknowledged, are inherently political, essentially contested visions of the most compelling and attractive forms of life for individuals and social organization. The current situation in bioethics parallels similar debates in eighteenth-century jurisprudence, especially Jeremy Bentham's withering critique of the prevalent forms of judicial argument and his own, equally unsuccessful, attempt to develop a decision-making procedure in ethics that would operate on a plane above politics. The risk, both then and now, is that we will fail to appreciate the wide range of reasonable disagreement that will remain past the point of extended reflection and discussion.