In Defense of Bioethics
Version of Record online: 25 FEB 2009
© 2009 American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Inc.
The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics
Volume 37, Issue 1, pages 83–92, Spring 2009
How to Cite
Baker, R. (2009), In Defense of Bioethics. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 37: 83–92. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-720X.2009.00353.x
- Issue online: 25 FEB 2009
- Version of Record online: 25 FEB 2009
Although bioethics societies are developing standards for clinical ethicists and a code of ethics, they have been castigated in this journal as “a moral, if not an ethics, disaster” for not having completed this task. Compared with the development of codes of ethics and educational standards in law and medicine, however, the pace of pro-fessionalization in bioethics appears appropriate. Assessed by this metric, none of the charges leveled against bioethics are justified. The specific charges leveled against the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) and its Core Competencies report are analyzed and rejected as artifacts of an ahistoric conception of the stages by which organizations professionalize. For example, the charge that the ASBH should provide definitive criteria for what counts as “medical ethics consultation” antecedent to further progress towards professionalization is assessed by comparing it with the American Medical Association's decades-long struggle to define who can legitimately claim the title “medical doctor.” Historically, clarity about who is legitimately a doctor, a lawyer — or a “clinical ethicist”— is a byproduct of, and never antecedent to, the decades-long process by which a field professionalizes. The charges leveled against ASBH thus appear to be a function of impatient, ahistoric perfectionism.