Has the time come for “queer bioethics”?

As same-sex marriage gains traction in the legal sphere, what about in bioethics? Two bioethicists at the University of Pennsylvania have issued a stirring call for a “queer bioethics” in the leading journal Bioethics. Lance Wahlert and Autumn Fiester point out that many of their colleagues have been insisting that bioethics has to be reimagined to include the powerless and to challenge the status quo. If so, they say, the time has certainly come for bioethical analysis which accommodates LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex) persons.

“Queer bioethics requires us to take a two-fold approach: (1) We must pay greater attention to the topics, identities, and issues that are blatantly queer, for the service of queer persons; and, (2) We must examine the most common, the most pedestrian, and the most germane of universal health issues (those we wouldn’t even instinctively think of as ‘queer’) and imagine how they might be complicated or rendered troubling by the injection of queer personhood.”

Their proposal does not give concrete proposals or identify areas which would need to change. But they point out until now LGBTQI issues have been studied in isolation from each other – the response to the AIDS epidemic, blood donation by homosexuals, treatment of intersex children and so on. These all ghettoised LGBTQI persons, shunting them into a corner far from normality. In fact, their existence should lead bioethicists to embark upon a radical journey of redefining the self and the person. “The time for queer bioethics is now,” they conclude.

Wahlert and Fiester are already hard at work putting this in train. They have set up a “Project on Bioethics, Sexuality, and Gender Identity” at Penn and have organised a Queer Bioethics symposium in March and a conference in September. ~ Bioethics, Dec 14


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