J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2011-100057
  • Brief report

Bioethics in the public square: reflections on the how

  1. Amy Tannery Campbell
  1. Department of Bioethics and Humanities, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Amy Tannery Campbell, Department of Bioethics and Humanities, SUNY Upstate Medical University, 618 Irving Ave, Syracuse, New York 13210, USA; campbela{at}
  • Received 20 June 2011
  • Revised 28 December 2011
  • Accepted 22 January 2012
  • Published Online First 19 February 2012


As bioethics gains more prominence in public policy debates, it is time to more fully reflect on the following: what is its role in the public square, and what limitations relate to and barriers impede its fulfilment of this role? I contend we should consider the how of bioethics (as a policy influencer) rather than simply focus on the who or what of bioethical enquiry. This is not to suggest considerations of latter categories are not important, only that too little attention has been paid to parallel or resulting policy involvement—involvement that will require specialised skills and knowledge that we can develop with a proactive (vs reactive) stance. Moreover, and equally critically, this how of public policy involvement will require more transparency regarding influences (eg, philosophical, ideological, cultural, socio-political) on what bioethicists bring to the table and what constituency base each represents—a humility as to the scope of one's role. In this vision, bioethics is not one single person or belief system for a policymaker to call to guide or give support to a position; rather, it offers tools—formed and utilised by a diverse disciplinary range of individuals—to help guide ethical analysis of biomedical endeavours, with the goal of infusion and diffusion of ethical enquiry and prioritisation in health policymaking, and greater humility among bioethicists who inform this discussion.


  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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