Bioethics is at a crossroads. As a field that emerged after World War II to address horrific abuses against patients and research subjects, bioethics was supposed to give rise to a new day in which oversight would limit inappropriate behavior in the name of science. Over time, this initial impulse at substantive constraint has given way to a field largely preoccupied with procedure.
In this lecture, Osagie K. Obasogie explores whether originalism might provide an analytical framework that can re-anchor bioethics in its core foundational value: anti-eugenics in service of marginalized communities. Originalism—as a legal theory of constitutional interpretation that fixes the meaning of text in the historical moment in which it emerged—certainly has limitations and has been used in law for regressive purposes. Yet there are important distinctions between law and ethics that might make a troublesome application of originalism in the former more appropriate for the latter.
This lecture explores these distinctions, identifies foundational texts that may serve as bioethics’ “constitution,” from which original meanings can be discerned, and sketches a methodological approach for bioethicists to pursue their work in a manner that comports with this originalist sensibility.
In an era when gene editing might give scientists unprecedented power over the future of humanity, originalism may ultimately be the only way to save bioethics from itself.
Free and open to the public.
This event is part of the Gene Editing Science Lecture Series.