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The Logic and Legitimacy of American Bioethics By Mary R. Leinhos ...

Chapter 1:  Introduction
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The Logic and Legitimacy of American Bioethics

Chapter 1


In the last 40 years, biomedical technology has not only brought humanity the ability to cheat, but indeed, to redefine death. The year 1967 witnessed the performance of the world’s first heart transplantation in South Africa, which spurred reconsideration of the criteria for determining death. In due course, an ad hoc Harvard Medical School committee established a new death criterion: irreversible coma. This and other developments provoked deep concerns about the social, legal, and ethical impact of our growing biomedical capabilities. During the 1960s, several conferences, with titles such as “Great Issues of Conscience in Modern Medicine” and “Man and His Future” (Jonsen 1998a, pp. 13–19) were attended by leading figures from biology, medicine, law, theology, and the social sciences, reflecting the public’s growing disenchantment with the gods of science and medicine.

Out of the growing uneasiness emerged a coordinated movement and intellectual enterprise that came to be known as bioethics, which coalesced around three new organizations: the Hastings Center (incorporated in 1969, in Garrison, NY), the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University (established in 1971), and the Society for Health and Human Values (SHHV, a national professional association, founded in 1971).