Voices carry? The voice of bioethics in the courtroom and the voice of law in bioethics
Both bioethics and law have valid (and invalid) ways of telling stories. They can sometimes tell these stories with one another, thereby enriching the worldview of each. Judge-made law has made some positive contributions to the shaping of bioethics as a discipline, providing a real-world testing ground for moral arguments, issuing the judicial ‘products’ with which bioethics engages, and emphasising the importance of observing due process. And bioethics can have a positive impact on law when law engages with, for example, the principle of respect for autonomy. But, importantly, bioethics and law each has its own domain (and associated language and ‘voice’) and, on occasion, this can lead to obscuration and disharmony. The courtroom is an adversarial arena, not always ideally suited to the resolution of ethical conflict, and its concern with actions that satisfy attainable standards can fall short of the aspirations set in philosophical ethics. Indeed, sometimes the ethical dimensions of the case at hand are misinterpreted or wholly neglected in the courtroom. So much of what judges do involves interpretation (of the facts of the case, the story of legal precedent and of the particular ethical dilemma) and translation (of ethical issues into law’s discourse). Likewise, bioethics involves its own narrative discourse; real life situations are interpreted into substantive ethical controversies. Consequently, whilst both bioethics and law can reveal more of the story than one alone, the presence of narrative construction in both means that there is no one ‘truth’ but, rather, numerous interpretations of the critical scenario.