Who needs bioethicists?

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 35 (1):131-144 (2003)
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Recent years have seen the emergence of a new brand of moral philosopher. Straddling the gap between academia on the one hand, and the world of law, medicine, and politics on the other, bioethicists have appeared, offering advice on ethical issues to a wider public than the philosophy classroom. Some bioethicists, like Peter Singer, have achieved wide notoriety in the public realm with provocative arguments that challenge widely held beliefs about the relative moral status of animals, human foetuses and newborn babies. Other bioethicists practice their trade with greater protection from public scrutiny, confining their thoughts to committees in government circles, universities, charitable institutions, or hospitals. But what exactly is it that bioethicists have to offer in such contexts? What sort of expertise do bioethicists have that justifies their employment on these committees, or the time and space accorded to their views on television and the radio, or in newspapers and magazines? In spite of being an expanding group of professionals who attract large sums of private and public funding, bioethicists are sometimes met with suspicion or even hostility, both inside and outside academia. One common criticism is that the presence of bioethicists is unproductive in practical bioethical debate. In light of this criticism one might wonder why the relevant funding bodies have not spotted the hoax and withdrawn their funding. Certainly, if bioethicists..

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Hallvard Lillehammer
Birkbeck College, University Of London


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