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Liberal & conservative bioethics, Ruth Macklin and Eric Cohen, Hastings Center Report


The January-February issue of Hastings Center Report features two articles, "The New Conservatives in Bioethics" by Ruth Macklin and "Conservative Bioethics and the Search for Wisdom" by Eric Cohen. As I wrote in a former post, current American bioethics seems to be divided into two parties, liberal bioethics and conservative bioethics. Actually, theses two articles are worth reading, and both are stimulating.

Ruth Macklin attacks "conservative" bioethicists saying that they use "mean-spirited rhetoric," and they appeal to emotion, sentiment, and intuition, and they use poetic and metaphoric language. Macklin concludes:

[Conservatives] are not bioethicists at all. They are something else -- social critics, perhaps -- who rely on dramatic impact and rhetorical persuation rather than rational argument to convince their readers. (p.42)

In contrast, Eric Cohen tries to defend the conservative viewpoint, stressing that conservatives are not fanatic devotees, but rational people searching for wisdom "in those puzzling human situations where wisdom is most needed" (p.46). It is interesting to me that Cohen clearly states as follows:

conservatives believe that nobody should abort a fetus because of a genetic disability (p.45)

And in the last part of his paper, Cohen severely criticizes liberal's support for the genetic screening of disabled fetuses.

Interestingly, I feel that Ruth Macklin's article is very emotional, and Eric Cohen's article is relatively rationalistic. I am a "left-wing" philosopher in essence, but I sympathize with Cohen's article rather than Macklin's one. In Japan, disabled people's rights have been defended mainly by left-wing academicians and activists, not by conservatives, hence, Cohen's statement sounds interesting to me. But I must confess that I don't agree with his atittudes to abortion and family. I don't understand why he doesn't accept women's right to abortion (except selective one) and the possibility of various types of families. (Cohen admits that most conservatives are "traditional Christians, Jews, and Muslims" (p.46). ) And I would like to know whether conservatives have actually defended the rights of minorities, such as African-Americans and disabled people.

I think it is needed to salvage "wisdom" from conservative bioethics and transplant into the heart of liberal bioethics. What I really want is "wisdom" released from religious dogma. Liberal/conservative dichotomy is fruitless.

On July 13-14, the conference, "Bioethics & Politics: The Future of Bioethics in a Divided Democracy" will be held in New York. I would like to read a report of this conference.

Related article: Disability Movement and Inner Eugenic Thought

Photo: A goldfish in a bowl

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

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