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Signposts in a familiar land?

Editorial for the 9(2) issue of the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

By Michael A. Ashby and Leigh E. Rich

In comedy and humor it is often said that we laugh at what we find most difficult: sex and death and social taboos. In bioethics, we struggle to control—or at least order and contain—ultimately that over which we have no control: our “coming hither” and “going hence” (as King Lear has it). Perhaps increasingly today, we might also add the many ways in which we manipulate the body. These are the threads of life.

Canadian author and politician Michael Ignatieff, in the aptly named work, Scar Tissue, that describes the dying process of a mother with dementia, poignantly sums up the human tendency to attempt to control or tame our existential boundaries:

The real problem, of course, is what we are to think of death. People like us who live by the values of self-mastery are not especially good at dying, at submitting to biological destiny. The modern problem is not death without religious consolation, without an afterlife. The problem is that death makes the modern secular religion of self-development and self-improvement appear senseless. We are addicted to a vision of life as narrative, which we compose as we go along. In fact, we didn’t have anything to do with the beginning of the story; we are merely allowed to dabble with the middle; and the end is mostly not up to us at all, but to genetics, biological fate and chance (Ignatieff 1994, 68).

How does this relate to bioethics and what does it say about the communities bioethics attempts to serve? [continued …]

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Ashby, Michael A., and Leigh E. Rich. 2012. Signposts in a familiar land? Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 9(2): 119–124.

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