More History "Lite" in Modern American Bioethics

By Short, Bradford William | Issues in Law & Medicine, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

More History "Lite" in Modern American Bioethics


Short, Bradford William, Issues in Law & Medicine


Abstract: This article revisits a disconcerting phenomenon. The history of prominent 17th and 18th century moral theorists who exhibited disapproval of all forms of suicide is well known. Nevertheless, there are many bioethicists who continue to claim that either these moral theorists never actually opposed suicide, or that they never believed in the inalienable right to life and liberty that is an important basis for secular moral opposition to assisted suicide. These erroneous claims evince an improper historical methodology. They originate from the bioethicists' inaccurate quotation of the moral theorists and also from the bioethicists' unwillingness to understand the moral theorists in their relevant historical context. The author concludes that this attempt to obfuscate the true history of 17th and 18th century moral theory may also be removing a line of inquiry from originalist constitutional analysis that Federal Courts have a duty to engage in.

**********

The academic study of history is a very old endeavor, while the study of bioethics does not date back to long before the Vietnam War. (1) Of course, history is important to all the politico-ethical disciplines, and it is also important to all the decisions that people have to make on knowledge derived from those disciplines. Be it the study of the Anglo-American common law, or of constitutionalism, or choosing the next President of the United States, knowledge of history is important to the endeavor. The American people cannot know where they are going unless they remember where they have been. Furthermore, the American people are part of a Western civilization that is much older than a mere two centuries. Consequently, in resolving political disputes, American voters are entitled to historical scholarship that is both truthful and accurate. This entitlement becomes only more evident when one's attention turns to the field of bioethics. Bioethics involves making decisions on politico-ethical issues such as abortion, assisted suicide and informed consent, all of which have long historical pedigrees. (2) Therefore it does not merely involve philosophizing on what should be, but it also involves recounting an accurate history of what has been and how humans can thereby develop a new, better ethic.

Over the last three decades, America's leading bioethicists have failed miserably in this task of studying ethics within a historically accurate framework. I have shown in a previous article for Issues in Law & Medicine how two of America's leading bioethicists, Tom L. Beauchamp and James E Childress, have adulterated quotations from the works of the great German philosopher and historical figure, Immanuel Kant. (3) Both in that same article, and then again in a follow-up article, I also showed how the American political philosopher, A. John Simmons, utterly misrepresented the history of John Locke's theory of inalienable rights in his Inalienable Rights and Locke's Treatises. (4) More importantly though, it must be stressed that both of these works of history lite subtracted from the American public's sum total of historical knowledge of the lives of Locke and Kant. When Americans training to be political philosophers and bioethicists take such fabrications concerning Locke and Kant to be true, they begin a process that leads to less and less accurate historical knowledge of Locke and Kant with each succeeding generation of students and teachers. With each new generation of teachers telling each new generation of students fabrications about Locke and Kant, pretty soon, the disciplines of political philosophy and bioethics become totally deceived. At that point, the Locke and Kant who most bioethicists think they are arguing with are nothing but figments of the bioethicists' collective imaginations. This cycle of ignorance cannot be good for the country, and it must be even worse for the country if it becomes perpetual. And yet, I fear that many who have read my writings in Issues over the past two years have come to the conclusion that the examples of history lite cited therein are nothing but isolated examples. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

More History "Lite" in Modern American Bioethics
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.