The Story of Bioethics: From Seminal Works to Contemporary Explorations

By Eran P. Iuein; Jennifer K. Walter | Go to book overview

9
Shaping and Mirroring the Field:
The Encyclopedia of Bioethics

WARREN T. REICH

Published and unpublished comments on the role and significance oPf'the Encyclopedia of Bioethics (referred to hereafter as EB) that have been made over the past twenty-five years by numerous leaders in the field have established the following summary description: that the first edition of the EB (Reich 1978) played a major role in establishing the field of bioethics, formulated the most widely accepted definition of bioethics, defined the scope of the field, provided the first organization of knowledge for this field, and articulated standards for bioethics scholarship.

In the late 1980s, when I was trying to determine whether and how to perpetuate the EB—through a consultation process that led to the creation of the second edition (Reich 1995)—Daniel Callahan commented that in addition to being a constantly used reference tool, the EB “has served as a very important central document, providing unity, coherence, and direction for the field that one might never get from simply consulting the assorted books and articles that make up most fields.1” Callahan's comment evokes the theme I would like to pursue in this essay on the past and future of the EB: the enormous responsibility that has been placed on the shoulders of some bioethicists to take attentive care of the central unifying documents of the field, and how that responsibility over time creates a sense of responsibility of caring for the field of bioethics itself.

How to carry out that responsibility depends on how one specifies what the EB should accomplish. I regard the first edition of the EB as having had the function of shaping the field, while the second edition began the process of mirroring the field while continuing the function of shaping it. I believe it is essential that neither pole of these contrasting

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