Lessons from Queer Bioethics: A Response to Timothy F. Murphy

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Abstract

‘Bioethics still has important work to do in helping to secure status equality for LGBT people’ writes Timothy F. Murphy in a recent Bioethics editorial.1The focus of his piece, however, is much narrower than human rights, medical care for LGBT people, or ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Rather, he is primarily concerned with sexuality and gender identity, and the medical intersections thereof (i.e. DSM diagnosis; access to SrS or ARTs). It is the objective of this response to provide an alternate account of bioethics from a Queer perspective.

I will situate Queer bioethics within Queer studies, and offer three ‘lessons’ that bioethics can derive from this perspective. These are not definitive rules for Queer bioethics, since it is a field which fundamentally opposes categorizations, favoring pastiche over principles. These lessons are exploratory examples, which both complement and contradict LGBT bioethics. My latter two lessons – on environmental bioethics and disability – overlap with some of Murphy's concerns, as well as other conceptions of LGBT bioethics. However, the first lesson takes an antithetical stance to Murphy's primary focus by resisting all forms of heteroconformity and disavowing reproduction as consonant with Queer objectives and theory. The first lesson, which doubles as a primer in Queer theory, does heavy philosophical lifting for the remainder of the essay. This response to Timothy F. Murphy, whose work is certainly a legacy in bioethics, reveals the multiplicity of discourses in LGBT/Queer studies, many of which are advantageous – even essential – to other disciplines like bioethics.

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