Saturday, May 26, 2007

A modest proposal regarding 'bioethicist'

At some point, someone made up the term 'bioethicist' to refer to a person who does bioethics. I am not sure anyone (even Albert Jonsen) knows who created the term or when. But with all those harsh 'c' and 's' sounds, I do know it is a horrible thing to pronounce. Any discipline whose practitioners cannot be referred to without spitting is hard to take seriously. The situation would not be improved by adding some other suffix: if anything, 'bioethician' is worse than 'bioethicist.' Bioethician looks good on paper (close to 'physician'), but just try saying it. You can't.

So let's drop 'bioethicist' altogether. Replace it with 'bioethics worker.' The same goes for 'ethicist': ethics worker. For one thing, the change in terminology shows solidarity with sex workers, and it suggests (correctly) that we are all prostitutes in one way or another, doing undesired things in order to pay the rent. 'Bioethicist' gives the false impression of a (well-paid) expert in the realm of values, somehow elevated above the common folk, making pronouncements; whereas a 'bioethics worker' lives with those affected by the issues he or she studies, gets his or her hands dirty, faces the risk of occupational hazards and injuries. 'Bioethics worker' is a better description of the activity, and at least you can say it.

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