December 8, 2021

What are bioethicists doing to stop gun violence?

With so much to offer about thinking through public health issues, American bioethicists have been silent

After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people died, America has been convulsed with arguments about gun control. Where is the input from bioethicists, asks Craig Klugman, of DePaul University.

Although gun-related violence is a major public health issue in the United States, Klugman complains that bioethicists have shown little interest in it. He searched PubMed for “bioethics” plus “gun,” “firearm,” violence,” or “control” and found only handful of articles and blog posts.

Bioethics is supposed to be the great facilitator of moral discourse on issues of health in the modern era. After all, we came into being as activists to bring autonomy into medical decision-making, to bring to light wrongs in human subjects research, and to help people make difficult health care decisions, usually difficult because of the existence of a new technology. Bioethics has taken a public role, applying ethical analysis and discussion on issues in the public arena in such areas as human subjects research, stem cells, cloning, neuroscience, Ebola, secondary findings, genome sequencing, synthetic biology, abortion and much more.

Our expertise is in facilitating difficult conversations and moral deliberations. We can provide strong ethical analysis, engage in debate and conversation, weigh arguments, and help create consensus. These are valuable tools in the hospital and they are valuable tools in the public.

While bioethics has been criticized for shying away from issues of public health and social justice, the discourse on firearms is near silent. It is time for that silence to end.

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