It’s clear that bioethical issues have seized the attention of hospitals and biotech corporations — anywhere organizational ethics committees gather. And universities — not just medical schools — hire bioethics specialists to teach; while politicians and government leaders battle over legislation that attempts to translate its lawful practices into our lives. Meanwhile, the media conveys its own translation of what these life and death issues should mean to us with news pieces being posted, printed, emailed and broadcasted daily.

Bioethics is everywhere. Its questions reach far and deep into our personal and community life and call into view our humanity. So why aren’t more of us engaged in its discussions?

Up until last year, my involvement in bioethical thought was limited to a basic awareness of some media-heavy bioethical issues and an interest in studying their political and social aspects. It wasn’t until I was taking an ethics course that I reexamined what I know about the complex field of Bioethics. Jennifer Lahl (our CBC director who taught the course) sought to challenge us with the idea that everything in life has ethical implications.

Through this course, it became clear that something deeper than a medical or scientific code of conduct was at stake. Specifically, there are human implications. I think Leon Kass expresses this best in his introduction to the President’s Council on Bioethics excellent reader Being Human:

“Bioethical dilemmas, though generated by novel developments in biomedical science and technology, are not themselves scientific or technological matters. They are human dilemmas — individual, familial, social, political, spiritual — confronted by human beings at various stages in the human lifespan, embedded in networks of meaning and relation, and informed by varying opinions and beliefs about better and worse, right and wrong, and how we are to live.”

In a manner of speaking, bioethics is not just about issues, like human cloning, eugenics, and euthanasia; it is about what defines and connects us all as humans: procreation, birth, lineage, family, individuality, suffering, longing, aging, and death…the list goes on. It’s the idea that “a life well-lived” could in fact be at the heart of our ethical inquiries, motivating us to take care in examining these issues.

It seems to me that the human implications of today’s biotechnological pursuits aren’t often brought adequately into focus. Regardless of why this is, it is important that we continue to engage in debate and discussion, and that we understand that our own humanity is at stake, not just the lives we read about and watch on the news.

After my ethics class ended, I was emboldened to commit to a more resolute involvement in the world of bioethics. However, with little background in medicine or science, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I need to study. I started to read…reports from the President’s Council on Bioethics (which are free!), articles, books by bioethicists and experts in the field, and classic literature that spoke to the human experience. Meanwhile, my thoughts and conversations with people had turned to discussions about the world we live in and how we are to live in it. I found that I was learning and engaging in huge and important conversations with people in my own community. Bioethical issues that had previously been represented as political platforms are much more significant than I previously knew, and becoming involved and informed — is, in my mind, a very worthwhile outcome to what has become a vocational imperative in my life.

How can you also engage in today’s ongoing bioethical debates? What can you contribute within your community, family, and networks?? For news, resources, and opportunities to get involved, visit the CBC.

Read February 20, 2008 interview with Leon Kass.