Bioethics in a Liberal Society

Bioethics in a Liberal Society

Bioethics in a Liberal Society

Bioethics in a Liberal Society

Synopsis

This readable and balanced book is an original discussion of contemporary issues in bioethics. Max Charlesworth argues that as there can be no public consensus on a set of core values--liberal societies accept a variety of religious, nonreligious, political and moral stances, there should be a plurality of ethical stances as well. On this basis he discusses issues such as the ending of human life, new reproductive technologies and the ethical distribution of limited healthcare resources, particularly hospital care.

Excerpt

Issues in health ethics or medical ethics or so-called bioethics are very often considered in abstraction from the social and political context in which they arise. But it is obvious that making decisions about those issues will differ quite radically in a liberal democratic society as compared with any kind of non-liberal society, whether it be theocratic or authoritarian (the term is used in a neutral sense) or paternalistic or 'traditional'. In a liberal society personal autonomy, the right to choose one's own way of life for oneself, is the supreme value. Certain consequences follow from the primacy given to personal autonomy in the liberal society. First, there is in such a society a sharp disjunction between the sphere of personal morality and the sphere of the law. The law is not concerned with matters of personal morality and the 'enforcement of morals'. Second, the liberal society is characterised by ethical pluralism, which allows a wide variety of ethical and religious (and non-religious) positions to be held by its members. Third, apart from the commitment to the primacy of personal autonomy, there is no determinate social consensus about a set of 'core values' or a 'public morality' which it is the law's business to safeguard and promote.

One might expect that in a liberal society the value of personal autonomy would be central in ethical discussions about new . . .

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