Consensus Formation: The Creation of an Ideology

Bioethics is not merely a theoretical discipline but a practice as well. Indeed, bioethics is a sort of moral trade. Bioethicists serve on ethics committees, give expert testimony to courts, provide guidance for healthcare policy, and receive payment for these services. The difficulty is that their role as experts able to guide clinical choice and public policy formation is brought into question by the diversity of moral understandings regarding central moral issues at the heart of the culture wars in healthcare. The disconfirmation of the expert role of bioethicists by their apparent actual role as partisans of particular moral schools and perspectives could be set aside, were there an avenue to moral consensus, a door to a common moral vision to guide this new profession of moral experts. This brief article addresses the hunger for consensus in bioethics, its impossibility with respect to the controversial issues that mark the field, and the inclination nevertheless to deny this manifest diversity by appeals to a consensus that could allow bioethicists to function as ethics experts able substantively to guide clinical choices and public policy
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DOI 10.1017/S0963180102101034
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