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Health Care Anal. 1996 Aug;4(3):206-18.

Designing ethicists.

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  • 1Department of Philosophy, La Roche College, Pittsburgh, USA.


In the United States, disturbing concerns pertaining to both how putative bioethicists are perceived and the potential for the abuse of their power in connection with these perceptions compel close examination. This paper addresses these caveats by examining two fundamental and interrelated components in the image-construction of the ethicist: definitional and contextual. Definitional features reveal that perceptions and images of the ethicist are especially subject to distortion due to a lack of clarity as to the nature and qualifications of the ethicist. Furthermore, the clinical, professional, political, academic, and linguistic contexts in which these ethicists are engaged are contexts of disquieting degrees of power. I argue that the lack of definitional clarity as to what constitutes an ethicist combined with the above volatile contexts together set the stage for the abuse of power on the part of ethicists. Throughout, I question the extent of self-critical analyses among ethicists, and, in view of these components in image-construction and their relationship to power, I challenge the degree of integrity within the field. In conclusion, I propose some areas for further investigation.

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