John H. Evans

What is Bioethics?

Bioethics is an institution in the public sphere, asked to give advice about technology and medicine on behalf of society to both scientists and policy-makers.  It has a diffuse sort of power over what actually happens with technology in American society.  But, why do people in the field of bioethics make the types of arguments that they do – and thus tend toward certain outcomes?  For example, why are few bioethicists critical of germline human gene editing?

            A surface level examination of the field may assume that the best arguments are the ones that are used, and the not so good arguments fade away.  However, good and bad arguments are dependent upon the social context.  In his first and third books and series of articles, Evans argues that “thin” arguments in bioethics predominate, and “thick” ones do not, due to a series of changes in the social context of these debates, most notably the emergence of the bureaucratic state as a consumer of bioethics in the 1970s and 1980s.  His most recent book takes a much more micro approach and argues that the limits that bioethicists have set for technological development have not been discursively defensible, which has resulted in the permissible acts of gene editing moving down a slippery slope.

Evans’ books and articles on Bioethics