Debate About Bioethicists' Role in Society Roils the Field

Steven Pinker
Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker recently argued in a Boston Globe editorial that bioethicists need to "get out of the way" of research. His "live grenade thrown into the field of bioethics" and the reaction to it are outlined in an article in Pacific Standard. Pinker's opinion piece, which was sparked by concerns raised by a new gene-editing technology called CRISPR, describes delays in potentially life-saving research because of what he characterizes as abstract moral deliberations; he argues that "a truly ethical bioethics should not bog down research in red tape, moratoria, or threats of prosecution based on nebulous but sweeping principles such as 'dignity,' 'sacredness,' or 'social justice.'" The article quotes Center for Bioethics professor Carl Elliott, who notes, "Many people working in and around bioethics wince if someone called them a 'bioethicist' . . . . Some resist the aura of professionalism and moral expertise that the term bioethics seems to imply."