Does Ethical Theory Have a Future in Bioethics?

Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 32 (2):209-217 (2004)
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The last twenty-five years of published literature and curriculum development in bioethics suggest that the field enjoys a successful and stable marriage to philosophical ethical theory. However, the next twenty-five years could be very different. I believe the marriage is troubled. Divorce is conceivable and perhaps likely. The most philosophical parts of bioethics may retreat to philosophy departments, while bioethics continues on its current course toward a more interdisciplinary and practical field.I make no presumption that bioethics is integrally linked to philosophical ethical theory. Indeed, I assume that the connection is contingent and fragile. Many individuals in law, theological ethics, political theory, the social and behavioral sciences, and the health professions carefully address mainstream issues of bioethics without finding ethical theory essential or breathtakingly attractive. This is not surprising. Moral philosophers have traditionally formulated theories of the right, the good, and the virtuous in the most general terms.



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