Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Not Your Typical Bioethics Gathering

The Inaugural Conference, IHEU- Appignani Center for Bioethics at the UN Plaza in New York City this past weekend, graciously hosted by Ana Lita, Director of Center. Having attended conferences at the conservative CBHD and the CBC, this was a group of progressive bioethicists and scholars, who are seeking to find the common ground with the conservative bioethics groups and make sure that the progressive voice of humanism is heard in the dialogue. The keynote speakers included Glenn McGee and Kathryn Hinsch of the Women’s Bioethics Project. Here are some highlights of Kathryn’s speech:

“Is there still time to effectively promote an alternative bioethics agenda? I believe the answer is yes…. We won’t be effective by merely dismissing legitimate concerns as scientifically ignorant or faith-based nonsense. And we need to do more than just say “yes” where the conservatives say “no.”

We have the power to shape to create a compelling alternative vision, one based on a different worldview and values. How do we do that? Here are a few thoughts to consider:

We must be willing to move beyond our historical ways of thinking about issues. Technology will change the nature of the facts and force us to reexamine the tenets of our underlying belief systems whether we identify as pro-choice, pro-environment or pro-science… For example, when one partner wants a frozen embryo donated to research and the other wants it implanted in another women’s womb – what is the pro-choice position here? We may want to see scientific progress continue but are there circumstances where it can do more harm than good? Our willingness to engage in a broad rethinking of the issues will help us map out powerful and compelling positions.

We must spend more time thinking about what kind of world we want to live in, and then build a philosophical framework around this vision rather than just weighing in issue by issue. We need less talk about technology and more talk about values. We have a responsibility to not cede all things moral to the religious right.

We must embrace strange political bedfellows, as bioethics does not necessarily follow a party line. Look at the Schiavo case—when else in history have Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader, and Rush Limbaugh all agreed on a major issue? This is just the beginning. We must look at this as an opportunity; a strategic way to get reach out to groups that would not ordinarily align together.

We must work on issues that are really relevant to people’s lives, not just the sexy ones that get all the headlines. Broad issues that don’t seem frightening or hot enough to engage national media attention still deserve our focus, such as access to health care, poverty, and caring for children and the elderly.

And finally, we must think globally from the beginning; the issues we face do not have borders. This is an exciting time to be involved in bioethics.”

Other speakers ranged from James Hughes to Stuart Newman, making for a stimulating blend of views and discussion. In a manner akin
to the story of the Rabbi’s Gift, I try and meet and greet every individual at these conferences with an open mind and respect, and I was pleased to see that the majority of attendees and speakers approached the issues in like manner.

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