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Can bioethics be an honest way of making a living? A reflection on normativity, governance and expertise

Abstract

The authority of bioethics as a field of inquiry and of bioethicists as scholars with a distinctive expertise is being questioned on various fronts. Sarah Franklin’s 2019 Nature commentary ‘Ethical research – the long and bumpy road from shirked to shared’ is the latest example . In this paper, we respond to these challenges by focusing on two key issues. First, we discuss the theory and practice of bioethics. We argue that both of these endeavours are fundamental components of this field of inquiry and that bioethics cannot be reduced to the contribution that it makes to the production of biopolicy, as Franklin suggests. Second, we contend that bioethicists have distinctive skills and knowledge that place them at an epistemic advantage in discussing normative questions. Hence, we reject views that deny the specific contribution that bioethicists can bring to assessing the ethics and governance of science and technology. We conclude by arguing that—despite formal and substantive differences between disciplines—philosophers, social scientists and other scholars should join forces and engage in critical friendships rather than turf wars to move towards the just governance of science and technology.

  • philosophical ethics
  • public policy
  • sociology

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