Identity of Bioethicists

The field of bioethics is currently undergoing a moment of self-awareness and self-reflection as it seeks to define itself. Anthropologists and sociologists are particularly interested in examining the people who comprise the field of bioethics because their identity helps us understand the world of ethics; moreover, the field exhibits signs of undergoing the process of professionalization given various developments (Bosk & Frader, 1998; Churchill, 1999; Crigger, 1995, 1998; Haimes, 2002). One indication of professionalization is the increasingly routinized role of clinical ethicists who serve as ethics consultants in hospitals to improve patient care by analyzing ethical dilemmas (Fletcher & Siegler, 1996, p. 125), which is legally mandated by the the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (1992). To better understand who bioethicists are and what they do, anthropologists and sociologists have turned their attention to studying bioethicists in their everyday practice. Ethnographic studies examining the process of clinical ethics consultations and hospital ethics committees in the United States and Canada reveal how consultations involve negotiation of cultural values and ethical constructs depending on the agendas of the participants, and that power relations and social status within the medical hierarchy constrain who may request an ethics consultation as well as efforts to attain consensus among the medical team and patient/family (Flynn, 1992; Kelly, Marshall, Sanders, Raffin, & Koenig, 1997; Marshall, 1996; McBurney, 2001). Yet anthropologists and others should be aware that studying bioethicists may be a difficult process because there is reluctance to self-identify as a bioethicist (see DeVries & Conrad, 1998). This reluctance is due in part to the tentative relationship bioethi-cists have with the public and critics who view them as "moral police" in health care matters (Satel, 2000; Smith, 2000) as well as a lack of consensus on what training and background are necessary to engage in bioethics or clinical ethics consultation. Moreover, while some anthropologists now work as a hybrid anthropologist-bioethicist, by serving on institutional review boards or ethics committees, and even consulting for Presidential

Advisory Commissions, including the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (Marshall, 2001), to date there are no first-hand accounts of becoming an anthropologist-bioethicist. The confluence of a move toward profession-alization and multiple identities of bioethicists make for interesting research into who bioethicists are and what they do.

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