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Feminist bioethics: At the center, on the margins (review)
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Feminist Bioethics: At the Center, on the Margins is a collection of essays that “reflect on the positioning of feminist bioethics” (xi). The volume editors suggest that the discipline of feminist bioethics, twenty years after it began, faces tension between becoming incorporated into mainstream bioethics, which would mean that it has greater influence on bioethics as a whole, and remaining “on the margins,” where it can perhaps better continue its critical project of drawing attention to the ways in which “dominant ways of doing bioethics” are gendered and “thus contribute to culturally inscribed oppressive practices” (3). The volume includes papers with diverse theoretical and methodological approaches and ranges over a variety of topics. It therefore also highlights the fact that, despite their shared commitment to a feminist approach, feminist bioethicists represent a number of different disciplinary perspectives and theoretical commitments. (This point is also addressed by Anne Donchin in her chapter on the history of feminist bioethics.)

The structure of the collection is interesting and, together with the introductions to each section written by the editors, does an excellent job of showing the core feminist themes and commitments that unify the contributions of the various authors. The first section is an introduction to feminist bioethics and its relation to mainstream bioethics. Following the editors’ introduction, which describes feminist bioethics and its relation to mainstream bioethics, is Donchin’s history of bioethics, mentioned above. Donchin documents the origins of feminist bioethics, including the founding of FAB in 1992 and the emergence, also in the early 1990s, of a “critical mass of feminist bioethics scholarship” (12–13). She then surveys the development of this scholarship over the next two decades. The second chapter is Christophe Rehmann-Sutter’s analysis of three editions of the Encyclopedia of Bioethics. He traces the differences in the way in which the ethical issues arising from prenatal diagnosis (PND) are presented in each edition, showing the dramatic change in the way these issues are framed in the third edition, which is the first to make the perspectives of women facing PND central to its analysis. The final chapter in this section, by Richard Twine, assesses the potential contribution to feminist bioethics of other areas of feminist scholarship, particularly feminist science studies. Twine argues that feminist science studies as a field has been better able to incorporate postmodern perspectives than has feminist bioethics and that the latter can benefit from the achievements of the former.

The second section of the book addresses the role of theory in feminist bioethics. The authors note in their introduction that bioethics has always been an interdisciplinary field, but its theoretical basis has been derived mainly from moral philosophy—though bioethics focuses on “concrete goals and midlevel theories rather than on metatheorization” (61). Like feminist moral theory, theoretical discussions in feminist bioethics have drawn attention to the gendered nature of key concepts such as autonomy and justice. Feminists have tended to emphasize the importance of our relations with others and with the social and political practices of our society. The chapters in this section all address concepts that are central to bioethics and that have been distorted or undertheorized in mainstream bioethics. Catriona Mackenzie reviews mainstream and feminist conceptions of autonomy and draws out their implications for the way in which the body is understood. She argues that the traditional conception of autonomy in terms of maximal choice lends itself to the idea that we “own” our bodies and thus have not only a right to noninterference but also the right to use our bodies and body parts as we see fit. Mackenzie points out that this individualistic account cannot adequately account for the ways in which individuals’ choices are shaped by, and in turn shape, the choices that can actually be made in a particular society. She briefly addresses the implications of this approach for the question of commercializing body parts and for the genetic enhancement of future children, and she then sketches a relational view of autonomy that would provide a better basis for addressing these issues. Mary Rawlinson’s chapter on the way in which key concepts such as human rights and equality are addressed in the Universal Declaration on...

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