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February 01, 2011


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Well, I think bioethicists cling to autonomy because there's an undeniable pressure for some kind of measurement criteria, especially from the group(s) that keep pushing for a code of bioethics. This would include a list of how-to's and what to do's and so forth, both in medical ethical situations and in research and writing in general.

I think that the "answer" is that in an environment where bioethics is as measured and scrutinized under scientific guidelines as those in the humanities, there are some people - who have been vocal and in a position to publish and otherwise be heard - who like autonomy because it's easy to measure. We have guidelines that people have agreed upon for what it means to be an autonomous individual, and the notion of autonomy is the same in sciences and humanities. This last bit, in particular, I think is really important - because it's one of the few times where you're going to find sciences-as-a-whole and humanities-as-a-whole speaking the same language.

Add to that that bioethics is a uniquely American field - in that while medical ethics has been a vague sort of medicine for, oh, ever, bioethics and the primacy of autonomy largely comes out of the Seattle God Squad case and crew - and Americans view "freedom" and "autonomy" as synonymous, you get something that's easy to measure, with a lexicon and concept/premise that "all Americans" understand (and has been exported to places where similar American values have ended up - see, for example, the difficulty in pushing autonomy in Asian countries).

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