Done good

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Abstract

How did bioethics manage to grow, flourish and ultimately do so well from a very unpromising birth in the 1970s? Many explanations have been advanced. Some ascribe the field's growth to a puzzling, voluntary abnegation of moral authority by medicine to non-physicians. Some think bioethics survived by selling out to the biomedical establishment—public and private. This transaction involved bestowing moral approbation on all manner of biomedicine's doings for a seat at a well-stocked funding table. Some see a sort of clever intellectual bamboozlement at work wherein bioethicists pitched a moral elixir of objective expertise that the morally needy but unsophisticated in medicine and the biological sciences were eager to swallow. While each of these reasons has its defenders, I think the main reason that bioethics did well was that it did good. By using the media to move into the public arena, the field engaged the public imagination, provoked dialogue and debate, and contributed to policy changes that benefitted patients and healthcare providers.

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