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Bizarre Bioethics

Ghosts, Monsters, and Pilgrims

The focus of bioethical debates on exceptional cases neglects the underlying values—like justice and community—that would lend to a broader, more well-rounded understanding of today's world.

Discussions of ethical problems in health care too often concentrate on exceptional cases. Bioethical controversies triggered by experimental drugs, gene-edited babies, or life extension are understandably fascinating: they showcase the power of medical science and technology while addressing anxieties concerning health, disease, suffering, and death. However, the focus on rare individual cases in the media spotlight turns attention away from more pressing ethical issues that impact global populations, such as access to health care, safe food and water, and the prevention of emerging infectious diseases.

In Bizarre Bioethics, Henk A.M.J. ten Have argues that this focus on bizarre cases leads to bizarre bioethics with a narrow agenda for ethical debate. In other words, although these extreme cases are undeniably real, they present a limited and skewed view of everyday moral reality. This focus also assumes that individuals are rational decision-makers, so that the role of feelings and emotions can be downgraded. Larger questions related to justice, solidarity, community, meaning, and ambiguity are not appreciated. Such questions used to be posed by philosophical and theological traditions, but they have been exorcised and marginalized in the development of bioethics. Science, ten Have writes, is not a value-free endeavor that provides facts and evidence: it is driven by underlying value perspectives that are often based on metaphors and world views from philosophical and theological traditions.

Drawing on a rich analysis of the literature, ten Have explains how bioethical discussion can be enriched by these metaphors and develops a broader approach that critically delves into the imaginative world views that determine understanding of the world and human existence. Examining the roles of the metaphors of ghosts, monsters, pilgrims, prophets, and relics, ten Have illustrates how science and medicine are animated by imaginations that fuel the search for hope, salvation, healing, and a predictable future. Bizarre Bioethics invites students, researchers, policymakers and teachers interested in ethics and health care to think about the value perspectives on health and disease today.

About the Author

Henk A.M.J. ten Have, MD, PhD is a research professor in bioethics at Universidad Anáhuac México and professor emeritus at Duquesne University's Center for Healthcare Ethics. He is the author of Wounded Planet: How Declining Biodiversity Endangers Health and How Bioethics Can Help and the coauthor of Bioethics, Healthcare and the Soul.

Endorsements

"An excellent book, clear and engaging. Ten Have has been involved in several discipline-shaping research endeavors and is very well placed to write a reflective meta-essay on the state of play in bioethics and to describe a vision for its future."

- John McMillan, Otago Medical School, author of The Methods of Bioethics: An Essay in Meta-Bioethics

"In a provocative fashion and with the extraordinary erudition for which he is known, Henk Ten Have reminds us that bioethics rests on recessive premises, irreducible to fact-based and principle-oriented analyses. Openness to the broader horizon of metaphors and global value perspectives, beyond a narrowly individualistic and rationalistic methodology, can help bioethics decipher the 'bizarre' images that nourish its reflection, searching more critically for what it means to be human and keeping us alert to the myths of contemporary technoscience. A brilliant book!"

- Roberto Dell'Oro, Bioethics Institute, Loyola Marymount University, coauthor of Health and Human Flourishing: Religion, Moral Anthropology, and Medicine

"Of all bioethics books published during the last 50 years, this one is by far the most original and thought provoking."

- Jan Helge Solbakk, University of Oslo, coeditor of The Ethics of Research Biobanking

"Bizarre Bioethics is an unsettling book. ten Have is acutely critical in showing that current bioethical debates are preoccupied with extraordinary cases that provide distorted views of reality. The book urges a shift from this vertical and episodic bioethics focused on individual issues to a bioethics framed by collective, horizontal, and permanent situations."

- Volnei Garrafa, Professor Emeritus, University of Brasília

"With this new must-read book, Henk ten Have has proven once again to be one of the most original thinkers in bioethics today. ten Have's take on bioethics is informed by a deep familiarity with the field and its history. What's more, it derives a distinctive character from his truly global perspective, gained through his work for UNESCO all over the world. Both qualities come to the fore in Bizarre Bioethics, which is not only intellectually enlightening but also extremely entertaining in its focus on ghosts, monsters, pilgrims, prophets, and relics."

- Bert Gordijn, Institute of Ethics, Dublin City University

"Ten Have has artfully identified both good and scary elements in bioethics today. One is left wondering if the roles of ghosts and monsters might be changed. His reflections on the development of bioethics, its attempt at being neutral, and the effects of losing the human moral experience are spot on."

- Colleen M. Gallagher, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, coeditor of Ethical Challenges in Oncology: Patient Care, Research, Education and Economics
Johns Hopkins University Press
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