Human Exceptionalism

How Bioethicists “Talk”

Reading bioethics literature is sometimes a challenging task. Bioethics-ese is replete with buzz words, such as “rich,” “robust,” “fruitful,” etc.  The verbiage often seems self-congratulatory and frequently masks some  hard-edged and very radical advocacy.

Here’s an example  of the lexicon–not radical advocacy–to which I refer.  British bioethicist Deborah Bowman, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reviews a new book called The Future of Bioethics by bioethicist Howard Brody.  I have put the buzz gobbedlygook in italics. by which I mean it sounds good and erudite, but really communicates very little. From the review (no link, JAMA August 12, 2009—Vol 302, No. 6, p. 695):

While the chapters cover discrete topics, this coherent and powerful book argues the case for a more reflective, engaged, humble, and activist approach to the practice of bioethics. It is also an apposite and timely text when considered in the context of the changing nature of medicine and health care. As many Western societies grapple with the increasing demands of chronic disease and increased longevity on health care systems, and as inequities between societies and populations widen, the ways in which Brody reiterates the value of care, vulnerability, inclusiveness, and multiple narrative are fundamental not merely to the flourishing of bioethics but to a good society. It is, Brody argues convincingly, not merely “nice” for bioethics to engage with the marginalized, underrepresented, absent, or powerless; it is essential to meaningful intellectual advancement as well as the future practice of bioethics.

I am not criticizing Brody’s book, which I have not read. I would note, however, that the most weak and vulnerable  in society–those with significantly impaired cognitive capacities and deemed to have a poor quality of life– have the most to fear from bioethics, not the other way around.