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Published on May 3, 2012
David Winickoff, Professor at UC Berkeley, discusses the differences between bioethics and biopolitics at the 2011 Tarrytown Meeting. Professor Winickoff highlights the importance of values like social justice, human rights and democratic governance to guide a new biopolitics.
The Tarrytown Meetings bring together people working to ensure that human biotechnologies and related emerging technologies support rather than undermine social justice, equality, human rights, ecological integrity and the common good.
Presentation Excerpt: There is an irony that a meeting devoted to challenging the existing paradigm of bioethics would begin with principles. It is, afterall, the book called The Principles of Biomedical Ethics, that still holds a dominant position in the field. Its influence can hardly be exaggerated.... The Beauchamp-Childress approach has attracted some strong criticisms, some, no doubt, from members of the audience here: First, why these four principles? Were they found at the bottom of Mt. Sinai, chiseled onto a tablet lost by Moses? Second, principles come into conflict, so the deductive methods they lay out are often indeterminate. Finally, as norms become authoritative, they can also become too rigid.
All these criticism of "principlism" ring true, but they shouldn't deter us from taking on the project of examining a core set of values for these meetings. But we must start by claiming less than the principlists do, so that we, ironically, might be on firmer ground. A list of values won't determine right answers. We should argue about them. And we should think of them strategically.
What might the project of articulating values promise for the Tarrytown community? I would suggest first that it is about getting the forest for the trees, in order to develop an understanding of the higher level concerns that cut across the ARTs, biobanks, BiDils, and Chakrabarties that we all work on. Hopefully, we can use more general values and principles to connect across topics and cases, making new wholes. Second, values and principles are mobile. They can be communicated, understood, and deployed to develop coalitions. Third, values like social justice, equality, human rights, ecological integrity and the common good -- the Tarrytown values from last year -- are in a constant state of evolution. With or without us, their meanings develop along with technological change. So, we jump in, or we're left on the curb.