Bioethics as a Utopian Style of Thought

Our next SSHM Seminar Series event is coming up! Professor Richard E. AshcroftDepartment of Law at Queen Mary University of London, will present his latest work on “Bioethics as a Utopian Style of Thought”.

The seminar will take place on Wednesday 19th March from 12:00-13:30 in Room K0.16, King’s Building, Strand Campus.

Prof Richard Ashcroft

Prof Richard Ashcroft

Abstract: In this paper I want to explore the idea that bioethics is a style of utopian thought. The idea that biotechnology and medicine play an important role in modern utopias is by now well established, and there is a flourishing subgenre of utopias written by doctors and medical scientists.  Similarly, the idea that achieving utopia requires biomedical interventions, and the idea that utopia might somehow emerge from the use of particular biomedical interventions, are also well understood. My contention here is that there is a novel way of thinking utopia (as distinct from novel forms of utopia) which has emerged through a dialogue with the life sciences and medicine, and that this novel way of thinking utopia is inherent in bioethics. More specifically, I claim that within bioethics we see the emergence of a style of utopian thinking which plays on tropes of liberty, progress, human perfectibility and at the same time on ideals of reasonableness, consensus and shared morality. This model of utopianising paradoxically eschews all explicit political commitments and only invokes social norms in passing, rejects both the idea that its values are ideologically loaded or have even an intellectual history, and that it is itself a form of ideology, and avoids framing explicit goals or notions of a static, end-state social form. In this it is true to the thought that utopian living is best figured through an account of a way of life, rather than an account of a city.

Professor Richard Ashcroft teaches medical law and ethics at both undergraduate and postgraduate level in the Department of Law at Queen Mary University of London. Previously he was Professor of Biomedical Ethics in the School of Medicine and Dentistry, and before that he worked at Imperial College London, Bristol University and Liverpool University. Professor Ashcroft is Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Incentives in Health, funded by the Wellcome Trust, with partners at Kings College London and the London School of Economics.  He is also working on the role of human rights theory, law and practice in bioethics policy, and on ethical challenges in public health.  He has a longstanding interest in biomedical research ethics. In November 2013 he was appointed Trustee and Governor of the British Association for Counselling and Psychoterapy.

You can take a look at Richard’s publications here.

The seminar will take place on Wednesday 19th March from 12:00-13:30 in Room K0.16, King’s Building, Strand Campus.

Please contact me if you’d like to attend this seminar: silvia.camporesiATkcl.ac.uk

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