, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 6-19
Date: 27 Oct 2012

The Troubled Identity of the Bioethicist

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Abstract

This paper raises questions about bioethical knowledge and the bioethical ‘expert’ in the context of contestation over methods. Illustrating that from the perspective of the development of bioethics, the lack of unity over methods is highly desirable for the field in bringing together a wealth of perspectives to bear on bioethical problems, that same lack of unity also raises questions as to the expert capacity of the ‘bioethicist’ to speak to contemporary bioethics and represent the field. Focusing in particular on public bioethics, the author argues that we need to rethink the concept of bioethicist, if not reject it. The concept of the bioethicist connotes a disciplinary or theoretical unity that is simply not present and from the perspective of public policy, it is incredibly misleading. Instead, bioethical expertise would be a capacity of a broader community, and not an individual. Such a conception of bioethics as an expert community rather than as an individual capacity, focuses our attention on the more functional question of what knowledge and skill set any individual possesses.