The Failed Search for the Neutral in the Secular: Public Bioethics in the Face of the Culture Wars
Posted: 1 Dec 2009
Date Written: December 2009
Public bioethics focuses on deliberating about, recommending, or establishing social policies or practices concerning health care and biotechnology. A brace of premises underlies much of the work of public bioethics. First, there is the view that, if one approaches reality and human life as if both were without ultimate significance, one will find that one shares a common public bioethics. That is, if one abstains not only from any religious concerns, but even from philosophical reflections on the circumstance that life might have ultimate meaning, one will be able to articulate a common neutral moral perspective that all persons can share and that can be the basis of a common public bioethics. The second premise is that the controversies in bioethics arise from the presence of religious belief, especially Christian belief, which supports a set of moral commitments that generate controversies that make the framing of public policy difficult. The view is that there is significant disagreement among persons who hold religious positions, particularly Christians, and that in public bioethics we should strive to eliminate these controversies by relying on a neutral moral framework. This paper documents and challenges these premises. It demonstrates that Christian bioethics finds itself already embedded in the field of secular moral controversy before it adds the perspectives it brings.
Keywords: neutrality, religion, secular
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