Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bioethics and Women: Across the Life Span

It's a snow day in Seattle (three whole inches!) so all my meetings were cancelled. This unexpected gift of time gave me the opportunity to read Mary Briody Mahowald's recently published book: Bioethics and Women: Across the Life Span (Oxford University Press). I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Mahowald last March when she participated in the WBP/Ford Foundation sponsored planning meeting in Washington, D.C., to organize the first-ever Bioethics Seminar for Women State Legislative Leaders.

Dr. Mahowald's book is not "bioethics-lite." Reading the first chapter transported me back to my graduate school days. In the first 30 pages alone it seems as though she touches on every critical philosophical underpinning of bioethics. Always a teacher, she has a delightful habit of including little explanatory notes in the text - in case your memory is a little fuzzy on Latin terminology or you aren't up on the latest medical interventions.

I went to Amazon.com to get a book cover image and found an editorial overview so much wiser than one I could craft. Here is an excerpt:
All persons, while different from one another, have the same value: this is the author's relatively uncontroversial starting point. Her end point is not uncontroversial: an ideal of justice as human flourishing, based on each person's unique set of capabilities. Because the book's focus is women's health care, gender justice, a necessary component of justice, is central to examination of the issues. Classical pragmatists and feminist standpoint theorists are enlisted in support of a strategy by which gender justice is promoted.

Two features of the book are unique: (1) the topics presented cover the entire life span of women, not just those related to reproduction; (2) a range views about moral status are applied not only to fetuses but also to individuals already born.

While delineating and defending the book's perspective, the first section provides an overview of bioethics, critiques prevalent approaches to bioethics and models of the physician-patient relationship, and sketches distinguishing aspects of women's health care that are prevalently neglected. The second section identifies topics that are indirectly as well as directly related to women's health, such as domestic violence and caregiving. Brief cases illustrate variables relevant to each topic. Empirical and theoretical considerations follow each set of cases; these are intended to precipitate more expansive and critical examination of the issues raised.

The last section is devoted to an egalitarian ideal that may be pursued through an ethic of virtue or supererogation rather than obligation. By embracing this ideal, according to the author, moral agents support a more demanding level of morality than guidelines or laws require.
Bioethics professors - take note: This book would be a great addition to your syllabus.

1 comment:

BuddhistValkyrie said...

That sounds fascinating! I really wish it'd been around the last time I was crafting a syllabus, though - it likely would have filled the hole I noticed in just this subject.

Have you ever noticed that reading lists just get longer, you never actually catch up and finish them?