Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What Bioethics Needs: More Lawyers

This is not the beginning of some annoying joke - I mean it. Over the last year, I've been impressed with the critical insights attorneys bring to bioethical issues.

I also had a terrific experience with young law students at the University of Minnesota yesterday. Laurel Kilgour, a UM student and one of the founders of their bioethics student organization, asked me to speak to their fledgling group. Normally, I would not fly nearly four hours to speak to a student group (even on their dime) but since one of the inspirations for starting WBP came from the scholarly work of Dr. Susan Wolf, I felt a debt of gratitude and decided to accept the invitation. Dr. Wolf is founding director of UM's innovative joint degree program in Law, Health and the Life Sciences.

We had a terrific turnout. I was impressed that these first and second year law students were very interested in the policy implications raised by bioethical issues. They asked complex and compelling questions. Frankly, their passion was contagious and I hope many continue to nurture their interest in bioethics. I'll say it again: We need more lawyers in the field.

P.S. They were the most polite audience I have ever addressed - Minnesota nice!

3 comments: said...

I'm not convinced. I've been attending the meetings of the Texas Advance Directive Coalition meetings in Austin, Texas, where the lawyers want to video tape ethics committee meetings and legislate notification of families at the first ethics consult that they have the right to have a lawyer present to question and get ready for any litigation the family may desire.

The problem is that lawyers see the solution to problems in making law. And I'm almost superstitious about laws - there's always a "booby trap."

And they're so hard to get rid of!

Maybe it's just lawyers as lawyers that I object to, but I'd rather see more physicians and theologians formally studying and then practicing clinical medical ethics and bioethics.
My comments after the last Coalition meeting.

Kathryn Hinsch said...

Boethically-trained lawyers bring important perspectives that are critical to public policy discussions. Take for example this insight from R. Alta Charo regarding the debate around regulation of emerging technologies:

“We always, in the United States, make a distinction between what we think is right and wrong and what we think the government should prohibit and permit.”

I don't usually hear physicians or theologians raising this kind of question, yet it important to consider as we craft new policy.

Maybe you need to hang around a better class of lawyer. :) said...

ummmm, I'm sorry, I did mean "lawyers as lawyers" in the medical ethics committee process. If we bring lawyers to the bedside, to act as litigators rather than ethicists, we might as well go ahead and meet in court.
(Some of my best friends are lawyers, etc.)

And I do agree with you on the difference between how we might want people to act and how we would legislate to force them to act. And on the difficulty of getting the patronizing and matronizing to understand that difference.