The Presence and Influence of Religion in American Bioethics
Abstract

From the inception of the relatively short history of American bioethics in the mid-to-late 1960s, the place of religion in this field has been complex and controversial. It has also been a subject of more than casual interest and concern to bioethicists, and to an array of medical and non-medical groups in U.S. society for whom the activities and issues in which bioethics is engaged have ongoing import. The questions and the tensions linked to the status and influence of religion in the sphere of bioethics have ramifications that extend beyond bioethics and biomedicine into matters involving the relationship of religion to the institutional structure of American society--most particularly its polity, legal foundations, and realm of public affairs--and to its cultural attributes and tradition. It is within this larger perspective that we will consider the association between American bioethics and religion. Our analysis includes two case studies: (1) how, in the early years of bioethics, a pioneering organization in the field dealt with the "redefinition of death" in its discussions and in a major medical journal publication; and (2) the way in which the most recently appointed federal bioethics commission, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, involved religion in its work on cloning and stem cell research.