The international growth and influence of bioethics has led some to identify it as a decisive shift in the location and exercise of 'biopower'. This book provides an in-depth study of how philosophers, lawyers and other 'outsiders' came to play a major role in discussing and helping to regulate issues that used to be left to doctors and scientists. It discusses how club regulation stemmed not only from the professionalising tactics of doctors and scientists, but was compounded by the 'hands-off' approach of politicians and professionals in fields such as law, philosophy and theology. The book outlines how theologians such as Ian Ramsey argued that 'transdisciplinary groups' were needed to meet the challenges posed by secular and increasingly pluralistic societies. It also examines their links with influential figures in the early history of American bioethics. The book centres on the work of the academic lawyer Ian Kennedy, who was the most high-profile advocate of the approach he explicitly termed 'bioethics'. It shows how Mary Warnock echoed governmental calls for external oversight. Many clinicians and researchers supported her calls for a 'monitoring body' to scrutinise in vitro fertilisation and embryo research. The growth of bioethics in British universities occurred in the 1980s and 1990s with the emergence of dedicated centres for bioethics. The book details how some senior doctors and bioethicists led calls for a politically-funded national bioethics committee during the 1980s. It details how recent debates on assisted dying highlight the authority and influence of British bioethicists.
are sought-after ‘ethics
experts’ with important positions on regulatory committees and
considerable public authority.50 But our appreciation of how and
why they attained this status is sketchy at best. Existing accounts,
such as a chapter in the World History of Medical Ethics, adhere to
the ‘origin myth’ model and claim that bioethics emerged in Britain
after new technologies and radical politics fostered greater discussion of science and medicine during the 1960s and 1970s.51 But
while issues such as clinical research and invitrofertilisation (IVF)
During the 1960s and 1970s Anglican theologians increasingly endorsed 'trans-disciplinary' discussion of new procedures such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) in societies and journals dedicated to medical ethics. Figures such as Ian Ramsey, an Oxford theologian and later Bishop of Durham, endorsed greater engagement with social and moral issues to maintain the Church's relevance in the face of increasing secularisation. He viewed theologians as the 'common link' who facilitated debates between 'experts in different disciplines and from different occupations'. This was especially the case for discussions of medical and biological research, which Ramsey considered to be the major source of 'frontier problems' in the 1960s and 1970s. Joseph Fletcher, professor of Christian ethics at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was one of first American theologians to look at scientific and medical ethics.
The political enthusiasm for external oversight was made clear in 1982 when officials at the Department for Health and Social Security (DHSS) broke from the longstanding reliance on scientific and medical expertise. It prioritised 'an outside chairman' for their public inquiry into in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and embryo experiments. Mary Warnock's appointment as chair of the IVF inquiry provided her with the chance to engage with practical affairs and led other philosophers to view bioethics as the most profitable branch of what Peter Singer called 'applied ethics'. While the Warnock committee, the press, scientists and politicians all agreed on the need for external oversight, there was less consensus when it came to deciding specific policies for embryo research. While the Warnock committee was disagreeing over embryo research, Robert Edwards used the prospect of moral disagreement to revive his opposition to outside involvement with science and medicine.