Respecting difference and moving beyond regulation: tasks for U.S. bioethics commissions in the twenty-first century

Kennedy Inst Ethics J. 2005 Sep;15(3):289-303. doi: 10.1353/ken.2005.0021.


This article focuses on two possible missions for a national bioethics commission. The first is handling differences of worldview, political orientation, and discipline. Recent work in political philosophy emphasizes regard for the dignity of difference manifested in "conversation" that seeks understanding rather than agreement. The President's Council on Bioethics gets a mixed review in this area. The second is experimenting with prophetic bioethics. "Prophetic bioethics" is a term coined by Daniel Callahan to describe an alternative to compromise-seeking "regulatory bioethics." It involves a critique of modern medicine. In the contemporary context, the areas of biotechnology and access to health care cry out for prophetic attention. The Council has addressed biotechnology; unfortunately, that experience suggests that the kind of prophecy that it practices poses risks to conversation. With regard to access issues, the article proposes an effort that unites themes of human dignity, solidarity, and limits in support of reform, while highlighting, rather than papering over, differences.

MeSH terms

  • Advisory Committees*
  • Bioethical Issues*
  • Bioethics*
  • Biotechnology / ethics
  • Committee Membership
  • Dissent and Disputes
  • Goals*
  • Health Services Accessibility / ethics
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Policy Making*
  • Politics
  • Public Policy
  • Publications
  • United States