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Bioethics, Theology, and Social Change

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Recent years have witnessed a concern among theological bioethicists that secular debate has grown increasingly “thin,” and that “thick” religious traditions and their spokespersons have been correspondingly excluded. This essay disputes that analysis. First, religious and theological voices compete for public attention and effectiveness with the equally “thick” cultural traditions of modern science and market capitalism. The distinctive contribution of religion should be to emphasize social justice in access to the benefits of health care, challenging the for-profit global marketing of research and biotechnology to wealthy consumers. Second, religion and theology have been and are still socially effective in sponsoring activism for practical change, both locally and globally. This claim will be supported with specific examples; with familiar concepts like subsidiarity and “middle axioms”; and with recent analyses of “participatory democracy” and of emerging, decentralized forms of global governance.
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Keywords: AIDS drugs; Catholic social teaching; Genomics; bioethics; biotechnology; genetics and ethics; middle axioms; participatory democracy; subsidiarity; theological bioethics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Boston College

Publication date: 2003-12-01

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