Part IV: Re-Imagining Bioethics: Expanding the Borders of Bioethical Inquiry and Action

Bioethical Issues, Sociological Perspectives

ISBN: 978-0-7623-1438-6, eISBN: 978-1-84950-501-7

ISSN: 1057-6290

Publication date: 1 January 2007


Why does bioethics need to be re-imagined? And what would a re-imagined bioethics look like and do? These questions are at the heart of this section. The bioethics enterprise in the United States has taken a very particular form, as many sociological commentators have pointed out. At the center of bioethics is autonomy as the dominant feature of the bioethics landscape. This emphasis on autonomy has its roots in American individualism, as well as the congruent history of bioethics and the civil rights movement in the United States. With autonomy at the center of the frame, many other features of the landscape loom large: attention to the individual as the epicenter of the bioethical dilemma, a concordant emphasis on rights, an enduring inattention to the social relationships in which individuals are embedded, the institutions that constrain individual action, and the social structures that channel individual lives, and, finally, the heavy weight accorded to the provision of information to enable patient-directed decision making as the ultimate ethical duty of the clinician. Relegated to the background – indeed more often than not barely visible on the far horizon – are welfare, care, justice, kin, culture, and society itself. While the sociological critique of bioethics for this peculiarly narrow and microscopic view is not new, the three chapters in this section prove that it remains as relevant as ever. More importantly, they demonstrate how expanding the borders of bioethics to encompass the social context actually affords us a stronger vantage point to assess the moral significance of our actions.


Mitchell Armstrong, E. (2007), "Part IV: Re-Imagining Bioethics: Expanding the Borders of Bioethical Inquiry and Action", Katz Rothman, B., Mitchell Armstrong, E. and Tiger, R. (Ed.) Bioethical Issues, Sociological Perspectives (Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 9), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 263-268.

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