Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 249–259 | Cite as

Still Quiet After All These Years

Revisiting “The Silence of the Bioethicists”
  • James Lindemann NelsonEmail author
Original Research


Some 14 years ago, I published an article in which I identified a prime site for bioethicists to ply their trade: medical responses to requests for hormonal and surgical interventions aimed at facilitating transgendered people’s transition to their desired genders. Deep issues about the impact of biotechnologies and health care practices on central aspects of our conceptual system, I argued, were raised by how doctors understood and responded to people seeking medical assistance in changing their gender, and there were obviously significant issues of regulation involved as well. Yet mainstream bioethics was conspicuous by its relative absence from the discussion. Here, I return to the matter and find that, while the conceptual issues are just as profound and their connection to health care practice and policy just as intimate, even as transgender issues have become much more socially visible, bioethical engagement with gender reassignment has increased only slightly. I set the little movement that has occurred against the backdrop of the situation as I saw it in 1998 and conclude, once again, by trying to make the bait for bioethicists inviting.


Transsexualism Bioethics Sex reassignment procedures Standards of care Philosophy 



Autumn Fiester and Lance Walhert kindly encouraged me to base this paper on my earlier contribution to the literature on bioethics and transgender. In that connection, I want to take this opportunity to thank again Susan Stryker for her enormously thoughtful editorial engagement with the 1998 paper, whose influence once more makes itself felt. I also had two anonymous reviewers who did exemplary work responding to the first submitted draft of this paper, giving me a great deal to think about in general as well as many useful suggestions. As is always the case, I am grateful to Hilde Lindemann for her close reading of this paper, but even more, for what I have learned from the many long conversations we have had on issues of gender and its role in our shared lives these many years


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life SciencesMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.College of Arts and LettersMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  3. 3.Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life SciencesMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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