Bioethics under attack in new book

Michael Cook
15 Sep 2012
Reproduced with Permission

The latest book in the Basic Bioethics Series published by The MIT Press is a scathing attack on the whole discipline of bioethics. Tom Koch, a Canadian gerontologist and bioethicist, is unsparing in his criticism. In a promotional article in the Huffington Post for the publication of Thieves of Virtue: When Bioethics Stole Medicine, he writes:

"The foundation myth of bioethics, the 'demi-discipline's' self-professed raison d'etre is at best inadequate if not demonstrably false. Its grounding lies not, as bioethicists insist, in a robust ethic of care necessitated by new science and a failed Hippocratic sense of duty and care. Instead its origins and purpose demonstrably rest upon its service to the neoliberal, postmodernist economics that made health a commodity rather than a service."

To tell the truth, the unexpectedly harsh critique is not altogether coherent, so we'll have to wait for the book. But the "Basic Bioethics" series, edited by leading bioethicists Art Caplan and Glen McGee, is quite reputable, so perhaps the preview does not do the book justice.

At least it immediately provoked some controversy over the foundational principles of bioethics - which is a positive development. A furious Paul Root Wolfe, of Emory University, the co-editor of the American Journal of Bioethics, gave it a big raspberry: "a rant by someone who really has no idea what he is talking about". Less convincingly, in view of the lurid stories in the column to the right of the article, another reader sniffs that "A respectable venue such as the Huffington Post compromises its credibility by printing this trash".

However, another reader says that "His claims are interesting and not very easy to refute." Stay tuned for further developments.