As a discipline, medical ethics has a long history grappling with questions that grow out of clinical encounters. It asks, for example, “What is expected of a physician in regard to confidentiality and relationships with patients?” By contrast, bioethics emerged in the wake of questions with a distinctly social component to them. It asks, for example, “Who should make decisions about scarce life-saving resources, and how?” In making this kind of shift, bioethics can take account of the contextual features that shape theories of health and disease, professional standards in healthcare, and research agendas. This shift has proved important for the lives and welfare of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. LGBT people are and are not like everyone else. We are not like everyone else in matters of sexuality and gender; we are like everyone else in matters of moral standing. The task ahead for bioethics is to interpret those differences across the breadth of biomedicine, without compromise of moral equality.
Timothy F. Murphy is Professor of Philosophy in the Biomedical Sciences at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago and Bioethics and Developing World Bioethics contributor
Read Timothy’s expanded research on this topic in Bioethics, available in early view and free for readers throughout LGBT Pride Month.