Feminist Bioethics

Authored by: Wendy A. Rogers

The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138795921
eBook ISBN: 9781315758152
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315758152-46

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Abstract

Bioethics emerged as an academic discipline in the 1960s and 1970s, largely in response to social and technological changes that challenged established attitudes and practices. Questions arose concerning the rights of patients and research participants, while the use of emerging medical technologies raised moral questions about the nature of life, decision-making and the legitimate boundaries of medicine. Bioethics as a discipline sought to foster ethical debate about challenging cases; provide ethical guidance to physicians and researchers about practice; and advise governmental authorities regarding relevant policy. However, the nascent discipline seemed oblivious to many of the gendered aspects of healthcare and the ways that healthcare practices reinforced oppressive gender norms. Entrenched gender biases in the foundational disciplines of bioethics such as philosophy, law, medicine, and theology were transplanted largely intact into the new discipline. By the late 1980s, feminist bioethicists, drawing upon feminist ethics and epistemology, started to challenge the gendered norms and assumptions of bioethics. While early feminist attention focused on reproductive practices, a sustained critique of the assumptions and theoretical approaches of traditional bioethics emerged during the 1990s. Since then, contributions of feminist bioethics have shaped the way that central bioethical notions, such as autonomy, are conceptualized; provoked methodological diversity; and extended the agenda of bioethics to include global and social issues far beyond the initially narrow concerns of medical care and biomedical research.

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