Thursday, July 19, 2007

Biopolitics at the Bedside

In my opinion, it's not the doctors nor the scientists who have the most interesting insights into bioethics. It's the dreaded lawyers. And if you find one with a Masters of Theology, you can be sure they have important and compelling ideas on life and death. I recently came across an essay published in the Journal of Legal Medicine by Joshua E. Perry, Assistant Professor (School of Medicine and Law School) at Vanderbilt University. In it, Dr. Perry asks, and answers, the question "why has the anti-abortion movement obsessed with the beginning of life and seized on the issue of end-of-life feeding tubes?" He ultimately concludes that "biopolitics in the early twenty-first century United States context is about strategies and agendas for controlling and regulating the bodies of individuals even at the bedside as they lie dying. Politicized interventions that seek to control and regulate the personal and private space of one's final exit, in an effort to promote the 'culture of life' cliche, must be identified and resisted as abuses of biopolitical power that threatens individual decision making at the end of life." Right on!

4 comments: said...

Or, people could genuinely believe that the right to life means the right not to be killed and the discrimination between which humans will be protected by government in fact infringing on that right.

Linda MacDonald Glenn said...

I think that there are people in a variety of camps, ranging from those who are consistently in favor of preservation of life (whether it be on the abortion issue, death penalty or war) to those feel that rigid control of individuals is essential to maintaining societal and civil order. It is one thing to hold a consistent belief and persuade others the merit of your beliefs -- it is quite another, though, to set up rules, regulations, or boundaries that benefit only a few with special monetary interests. said...

I don't understand the reference to monetary interests - would that be the "Not Dead Yet" activists who showed up at Albany in July '07 and similar disability activists who fought our Texas Advance Directive Act reform this year?

I've only read the first few pages of the 23 page article that Kathryn recommends (It cost $32 to access - perhaps we ought to talk about open access and monetary interests.)

However, the "anti-abortion movement" has been fairly consistent.

As Perry notes that others have noted, bioethics has always been biopolitics, it just took a while for the political angle to "arrest the attention of so many commentators."

Along with the evolution of medical technology and expectations in the treatment of patients who once would have died, the backlash against Roe juxtaposed with assisted reproductive techniques, the "right to die" movement alongside of the advance directive, there's also the emergence of this wonderful technology through which we are communicating today. Oh, and there's Dolly the cloned sheep and Hwang Wu Suk, the "rock star" cloner turned fake.

And then, there's the insular nature of the community of bioethics. Don't look for a single "anti-abortion" much less "pro-life" viewpoint at the list of contributors at this site or the editors and pseudoeditors like Caplan at AJOB. I'm not sure there's a conservative on the lists, and can identify only 2 or 3 that self-identify as believers. William Saletan's much commented about article this month pointed me to Dan Callahan and other's comments on the politicization of bioethics, including the exclusion of conservatives and religious ethicists, and the notion of "Progressive Bioethics."

I don't believe that there was much room for dissenters among the members of Clinton's National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Where there any Republicans at all, and who on the NBAC could be compared to Gazzaniga or Blackburn? And I didn't notice any objection to Alta Charo's politicization of her luncheon talk, using terms like "endarkenment" and personally attacking Wesley Smith, who was in the audience at that July 06 "Bioethics and Politics" conference in Albany.

Linda MacDonald Glenn said...

Bev, I'm talking about those who have co-opted the anti-abortion movement and tied it into all of society's woes (see Jon Eisenberg's book, Using Terri).

As for dissenters in the Clinton NBAC , I imagine there were, but you can see for yourself at I don't remember Alta Charo attacking Wes personally, but I'll have to go back and listen the podcast -- I certainly agree that personal attacks are unwarranted.