Judicial Responsibility to Decide Bioethics Cases

Thaddeus Mason Pope

Hamline University - School of Law; Queensland University of Technology - Australian Health Law Research Center; Saint Georges University; Alden March Bioethics Institute


Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, Vol. 10, No. 4 (2013 Forthcoming)

Bioethical questions within the law, especially those concerning life-saving treatment, often require quick decisions. But litigation is notoriously slow and cumbersome. Such disputes are often moot by the time they reach an appellate court — one that can issue a decision of precedential value — because a decision by the court can have no practical legal effect on the controversy.

While courts normally dismiss moot cases, there are some important exceptions. Most notably, appellate courts have adjudicated moot bioethics cases in two main situations: (1) when the issues are of public importance and (2) when the issues are capable of repetition yet evading review.

But, increasingly, appellate courts are abdicating their responsibility to decide moot cases satisfying these exceptions. This is problematic. The lack of recent legislative movement on divisive and emotional bioethical issues such as medical futility and mature minors suggests that they are “too hot” for the political branch of government. If the courts also fail to provide direction, then we are left with a policy vacuum.

Using two recent U.S. decisions, I argued that appellate courts have a judicial and social responsibility to decide bioethics cases that satisfy a recognized exception to mootness.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 4

Keywords: bioethics, bioethical, life-saving, dispute, precedential value, appellate court, moot cases, medical futility, mature minors, Roe v. Wade, Sheila W., aplastic anemia, controversy, judicial, judge, Gableman, Betancounrt v. Trinitas Hospital, emotional

JEL Classification: H51, I00, I10, I18, K32, K13, K41

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Date posted: September 28, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Pope, Thaddeus Mason, Judicial Responsibility to Decide Bioethics Cases (2013). Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, Vol. 10, No. 4 (2013 Forthcoming) . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2330999

Contact Information

Thaddeus Mason Pope (Contact Author)
Hamline University - School of Law ( email )
875 Summit Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55105
United States
651-695-7661 (Phone)
901-202-7549 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.thaddeuspope.com
Queensland University of Technology - Australian Health Law Research Center ( email )
2 George Street
Brisbane, Queensland 4000
Saint Georges University ( email )
West Indies
HOME PAGE: http://www.thaddeuspope.com
Alden March Bioethics Institute ( email )
47 New Scotland Ave
MC 153
Albany, NY 12208
United States
HOME PAGE: http://www.thaddeuspope.com
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