A feminist perspective on bioethics

August 23, 2019

Sociologists and researchers have long looked into the disparities and inequalities that lie in health care, oftentimes looking into the differences depending on socioeconomic status and location. However, with the changing viewpoints on gender and sexuality in the United States and around the world, scientists are also looking into the ethics behind these practices.

Professor Beth Clark’s (WGS) new course—Feminist Bioethics: Social Justice and Equity in Health Care, gives an introductory look into the feminist perspective of bioethics and looking at current health care issues through this perspective.

Bioethics, according to Clark, is a field that is focused on addressing any ethical issues that are related to “health care, medical research, biotechnologies and the environment.” Feminist bioethics brings about a feminist perspective to address these bioethical issues, Clark said in an email to The Brandeis Hoot. “It is grounded in feminist critique of mainstream bioethics, surrounding exclusion of issues, identities, values and moral perspectives relevant to women and other marginalized groups.”

She told The Hoot that this course is very connected to her own passions and research. “The main focus is on feminist approaches to ethical issues in health care…and the health of transgender people,” she said. Clark’s previous work as a clinical ethicist, health care provider and transgender health researcher helped inspire her to design this course. She said that it was created “to support exploration of ethical issues in health care, specifically from a feminist perspective.”

The course is split up into three parts. The first part looks at “current issues in bioethics and the philosophical traditions and research ethics scandals that have shaped North American bioethics,” Clark wrote in an email. The second part looks at the emergence of the feminist bioethics field and leading feminist bioethicists. The final part looks at specific ethical issues such as maternal mortality, gene editing and forced sterilization.

“The overarching theme of the course is how we can use feminist approaches to bioethics to promote social justice and health equity for marginalized and underserved populations,” Clark said. She is very excited to not only teach her students but also learn alongside her students. “One of the objectives of this course is to communicate ideas in multiple formats, including various forms of writing, oral presentation and visual communication,” she said. “I am looking forward to sharing ways in which arts can be integrated as tools to communicate within the health sciences, and to mentoring students as they explore ethical issues relevant to their lives and career paths.”

Clark also emphasized the importance of taking ethics courses. Systemically exploring different ethical issues gives individuals the opportunity to think differently and consider new perspectives, she explained. “This course supports critical examination of intersecting issues within health care settings, in particular race, class, gender, colonization and ability,” she said. Clark hopes that this course will help students prepare to better understand ethical dilemmas that they may face later in life and learn methods to better handle these dilemmas. “Practicing ethical analysis and communicating ethically sound approaches to pressing problems can prepare us to work more effectively toward social justice,” she said.

This course satisfies the Focal B: Social and Behavioral Dimensions of Health and Illness in the Health: Science, Society and Policy major and an elective in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality major. It also fulfils the social science general university requirement.

Clark is currently a Allen-Berenson Fellow in WGS department whose research focuses on ethics and transgender healthcare, she wrote in an email. “My current research looks at the role bias plays in health care for marginalized and underserved people,” she said. “And the ways that we can work toward more ethical practices and greater health equity.” Her past research has looked into access to health care and medical decision-making for transgender youth.

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