Advice to a Young Bioethicist

Bioethics Baby

The following is the beginning of a response delivered by distinguished bioethicist Arthur Caplan to Ezekiel Emanuel’s address to the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities earlier this year. The full speech was posted by Linda MacDonald Glenn at the Women’s Bioethics Project blog about a month ago.

The issue: what kind of training do bioethicists need? More descriptively (if awkwardly): what is it important for the people providing advice on life and death decisions to parents, children (of aged parents), doctors, hospitals, and others involved in health care, to know?

What Sorts readers might also be especially interested in checking out Emanuel’s views of the legalization of euthanasia, and might recall the misrepresentation of those views in the recent discussions of Death Panels in the US.  Anyway, here’s Caplan’s speech, which provides much food for thought:

When you get old enough as a practitioner in any field young people seek your advice about what they should do if they want to do what you do. Given that my age seems to be increasing exponentially this has been happening to me with increasing frequency. Undergraduates, high school students, medical students, those pursuing degrees in law and nursing and even those interested in a mid-career change have been asking me what they need to do if they want to pursue a career in bioethics.

I have thought about their question quite a bit. I have come to realize that the answer is not the same for everyone who presents the questions. But, the core of the answer is pretty much the same; pursue masters level training in bioethics, acquire familiarity with key social science methods and tools, learn something about a particular sub-area of the health sciences or life sciences and, seek out every opportunity to fine tune your analytical and rhetorical skills by working with others on projects, research, consulting, or teaching activities. At its heart bioethics is an interdisciplinary activity and knowing how to work with others who do empirical, historical, legal and normative work is a must.

I had thought that advice to be sound until I heard Zeke Emanuel’s plenary address to open the most recent annual meeting of the American Society of Bioethics and the Humanities. Zeke espoused a vision for future bioethicists that I think is narrow, misguided and wrong. Now I say that in the spirit that Zeke himself enjoys—vigorous debate about a matter that both of us consider of the gravest importance. Read the rest of this response in Lind’a post over at WBP.

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