Increasingly, conversations in bioethics include questions or claims about the contribution that feminist analyses might offer the field. In March 1995, the Kennedy Institute of Ethics devoted its annual Advanced Bioethics Course to an exploration of feminist approaches to bioethics. This special issue of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, which supplements the September 1995 issue on principlism and several alternative approaches to health care ethics, grew out of that course, containing articles written by those who presented its central lectures.
The first article serves as an introduction to the topic. I take seriously the often-asked questions of why and in what way feminism should be thought relevant to bioethics. Appreciating feminism’s distinctive contribution to the field requires appreciating some of the central themes common to virtually all feminist theory. Accordingly, I set out and develop two themes that are basic to feminism; I then give several examples of how various bioethical issues might be framed and analyzed differently when approached with awareness of these tenets. Feminist theory offers a critical tool for bioethics, I argue, both by revealing androcentric reasoning that can affect—sometimes subtly and sometimes crudely—substantive analyses of bioethical issues, and by helping us to re-think and refine aspects of ethical theory that form the conceptual tools of use to bioethicists.
In the second article, Alisa Carse and Hilde Lindemann Nelson take up one of the most famous theories associated with feminist philosophy, the “ethic of care,” inspired originally by Carol Gilligan’s work. While the ethic is much touted, it is also much criticized—sometimes, importantly, from distinctly feminist angles. Carse and Nelson deepen the debate by suggesting directions that a sophisticated version of the theory should take. They address four common criticisms of the care approach, some from “mainstream” theorists and some from feminist voices, and then outline how the ethic can be developed to answer these concerns.
It is often pointed out that feminism is not a monolithic theory. While the diversity of approaches and policy recommendations contained within feminism is in many ways a healthy one, such diversity can be frustrating and potentially undermining of feminism’s contribution to fields such as bioethics. In the third article, Rosemarie Tong discusses the differences and commonalities among various feminist theories, with an eye [End Page vii] toward developing a strategy that feminists might take in their attempts to advance conversations in bioethics. She first provides a lucid outline of the three main branches of feminist theory—liberal, cultural, and radical—and illustrates their distinct approaches by contrasting how each would approach the controversial topic of “surrogate” or contract motherhood. Having highlighted the differences among the three approaches, she then indicates their shared theoretical base. She ends by suggesting strategies that feminists might want to take, in light of these common factors, to maximize the influence their voices can and should have in bioethics.
One question commonly asked is what difference feminism’s distinctive theoretical approach makes when applied to the concrete issues bioethicists have traditionally discussed. In the fourth article, James Lindemann Nelson considers a topic of central importance to modern bioethics, the distribution of scarce health care resources, and demonstrates how differently we might analyze the issue if we view it through the lens of feminist theory. More specifically, he examines the work of several sophisticated, mainstream authors writing on the subject, such as Frances Kamm, Norman Daniels, Dan Brock, and Ezekiel Emanuel, and indicates various places in which a feminist analysis will reveal problems in the analyses that might otherwise remain hidden—problems, for instance, in methodology, in how the issues are framed, in the conceptions of justice employed, and in the relative insensitivity to questions about power distribution. At the same time, Nelson explores ways in which such mainstream work offers material that is valuable to a feminist picture of allocation questions. In the end, he urges, both sides have lost by the lack of dialogue between them.
In the final article, Karen Rothenberg discusses the intersection of bioethics, feminist theory, and the law. She traces how the differences among the three central camps of feminist theory yield different theories of feminist jurisprudence...