Bioethics as a distinctive field is undergoing a critical turn. It may be a quiet revolution, but a growing body of scholarship illustrates a perceived need for a rethink of the scope of the field and the approaches and priorities that have carried bioethicists through many heady years of success. Few areas of bioethical practice have been left unexamined, ranging from questions as to the sustainability of the discipline in its current form to the “expertise” of its practitioners; the legitimacy of bioethics in the realms of policymaking; its relationship to philosophy; the purchase of empirical and interdisciplinary method; the relationship of bioethics to the real world; bioethical understandings of the concept of “health” (and methods of attainment); its agenda, priorities, and inclusiveness right up to what might be the overarching question: “What is bioethics all about?” Unsurprisingly, these questions elicit varied responses. Scholars from various disciplines have critiqued fundamental tenets of the “ethics” business, albeit as claims of its “conservatism,” “corruption,” and its questionable “usefulness” suggest, not always with a charitable or constructive eye. But quite crucially and often overlooked, bioethics itself has not shied away from the question as to what bioethics is and what it should become; increasingly apparent is that this kind of self-conscious and reflexive theorizing is regarded as a key priority for taking contemporary ethics forward.
(Online publication March 25 2011)
Nicky Priaulx, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Law and Director of the Cardiff Centre for Ethics, Law and Society at Cardiff University, UK. Her teaching and research interests include torts and medical law and her book The Harm Paradox: Tort Law and the Unwanted Child in an Era of Choice was published by Routledge-Cavendish in 2007. Currently Dr. Priaulx is pursuing a number of projects that explore how insights from the behavioral sciences might inform regulation in the fields of reproduction and personal injury law.
My thanks to Joanna Latimer, Martin Weinel, Adam Hedgecoe, Harry Collins, Joan Haran, Russell Hardy, Matteo Fabretti, and Nao Yamada, who have been so willing to engage in discussion and debate with me around a range of themes relating to this piece. Thanks also go to the anonymous referees. Particular gratitude is owed to John Coggon for all of his patience and time as well as the generous invitation to contribute to this issue.