Queer bioethics holds its first conference

The novel field of “queer bioethics” held its first national conference today at the University of Pennsylvania. Among the topics discussed were: “The Cost of Science: Knowledge & Ethics in HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis Trials”, “Down & Out: Ethical Treatment of War Related PTSD in LGBT Veterans” and “Whose Body Is It Any Way?: Sexual Transformation in Germany, 1890-1933”.

Launched in 2012, UPenn’s queer bioethics project now has traction in the academic world. The Journal of Bioethical Inquiry recently published a special issue, guest-edited by the project’s directors, on the theme of “Bioethics, Sexuality and Gender Identity.”  The Winter 2013 issue of the Journal of Medical Humanities and a 2013 issue of the Journal of Homosexuality will also have special issues.

“LGBTQI persons are being forgotten in the bioethical discourse,” says Lance Wahlert, the project director. “Of course, we could make this same accusation of LGBTQI under-representation in any number of other academic fields.  In the case of bioethics or clinical ethics or research ethics, though, the stakes are so high since the day-to-day health care needs of LGBTQI persons and their families are in the balance.”

In the past, topics were largely studied not out of empathy for homosexuals but out of medical, ethical and legal urgency. The queer bioethics project aims to redress the balance. The next step is to grapple with issues like surrogate health-care decision-making rights for patients whose partners may not be legally recognized, care for transgender people and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder’s definitions of conditions like gender dysphoria and gender identity. 

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