Bioethics is the exploration of moral and ethical questions surrounding
life, health, science, medicine, and the environment. While the roots
of bioethics lie in philosophy and theology, today’s bioethics requires
collaboration among many additional areas of study, including law,
medicine, biology, politics, sociology, and business.
advance of biotechnology is quickly outpacing our ability as a society
to absorb how our lives will be affected by it. We are already
grappling with many serious and wide-ranging issues such as cloning,
stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, and prenatal identification
of genetic disorders, just to name a few. Advances made possible by
biotechnology will profoundly affect what it means to be human and how
we live our lives. It will have implications in many areas, including
politics (public policy, legislation, control of resources),
spirituality (What is life? What does it mean to be human?), and
culture (What does it mean to be a mother if children are born outside
the womb? What implications do our genetic make-ups reveal? What are
the implications of new technology for gender, class, and race?).
Women’s voices, perspectives, and experiences are not adequately
represented in the current bioethical debates, public policy decisions,
or in academic research. The majority of those leading the public
debate are men. Women can neither rely on nor expect men to represent
the entire range of human experience and perspective. Although several
other women’s policy institutes exist, none is dedicated to bioethics.
In the absence of rigorous, accessible, and thorough scholarship
focused through the lens of women’s experience, women risk not being
heard on complex bioethical issues. The Women’s Bioethics Project was
created to fill that gap.
Because policy decisions on these issues are
being made now, often with insufficient information and public review.
Policy makers and voters are considering bioethical concerns when they
decide whether to fund stem-cell research. Courts are facing bioethics
questions when they consider which of three “parents”—an egg donor, a
gestational mother, and a social mother—should receive custody of a
child. The media cover these issues with emotionally charged,
ideologically driven sound bites that fail to educate the public.
Meanwhile, despite the general clamor, women’s voices are
Historically, women have entered late in the political game. Without a
voice in shaping the legislation and policies that affect their lives,
women have had to contest inadequate solutions after the fact.
Bioethics policies are still being formulated, and women must weigh in
before it’s too late.
No women’s group or think tank has yet taken on this challenge—leaving
women, the media and leaders with neither a clear place to go for
reliable information on gender-related bioethical issues nor an
effective mechanism to advocate on behalf of women’s concerns. A number
of research institutes and professional organizations, such as the
Hastings Institute and other university-affiliated bioethics centers,
work on bioethical issues but they are not focused on outreach to
opinion makers, public engagement, and advocacy.
realities of women’s lives are different from men’s—also socially,
politically, and economically. It is women who take care of the young,
the old, and the sick of the world. Relative to men, women are
politically disenfranchised and economically dependent. Women’s access
to healthcare, including prenatal care, is subject to outside control
in a way that men’s is not.
Likewise, women’s bodies are different from men’s. As outlined
in the Institute of Medicine’s 2001 report, Exploring the Biological
Contributions to Human Health: Does Sex Matter?
, important sex
differences exist in the incidence, risk, causation, and presentation
of certain diseases. Treatments that work one way in men may work
another in women. And given women’s capacity to bear children, many
reproductive issues affect women’s lives differently than they do
men’s. Although women are now being included in more medical research
and clinical trials, most medical research has focused on males.
For most of history, positions of power and seniority have
been occupied by men. Men have set research agendas, chosen funding
priorities, written laws and public policy, and determined which
questions are worthy of attention. These decisions affect all of us—not
only men. It is vital that women have a place at the table.
of the power of women’s voices are the achievements women have made
politically in the last 30 years. Through the increased participation
of women in political parties, special interest groups, and especially
as elected officials, women’s issues that were previously overlooked
have come to the forefront of legislative debate. These include funding
for breast cancer research, the inclusion of women in drug trials and
medical research, fair credit practices, domestic violence issues,
child and elder abuse, rape, equal access for girls to sports, and
These issues were not top-of-mind for men, and it took
women speaking up to make them heard—yet advances in these areas
improve all our lives. As in politics, women’s voices will not be
included in the bioethical debate unless we make a concerted effort to
make them heard. By including women in the discussion, we will be
ensuring that these complex issues that challenge all of humanity have
the benefit of both women’s and men’s perspectives and work.
No, because there is no uniform “women’s view.” A full analysis of
women’s experience includes examining race, ethnic background, class,
sexual orientation, immigration, and disability status. WBP hopes to
represent a broad range of experiences and to engage in dialogue with a
number of different perspectives, all with the best interests of
society in mind. WBP welcomes diversity and embraces the uncertainty
that it brings as a way of increasing our greater understanding of
A number of bioethics centers exist today, including the Hastings
, the Midwest Bioethics Center
, the Kennedy Institute of Ethics
and numerous other university-affiliated organizations. In addition,
many think tanks are beginning to include bioethical issues in the
areas they study. WBP is exploring partnering opportunities with such
groups as the Institute for Women’s Policy Research
and the Center for
Women Policy Studies
WBP will seek to leverage and collaborate with these organizations as
WBP will also maintain a close and robust affiliation with
academic institutions including the University of Washington, Seattle
University, and the University of Puget Sound, as well as institutions
outside Seattle. However, as an independent think tank, WBP will retain
the freedom to address tough issues and develop its own perspective
that is separate from a single institution or bioethics center.
Seattle has a long history of hosting cutting-edge enterprises and
thought leadership, from Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon.com, to the Fred
Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington. Seattle
also has a strong and growing biotechnology community to draw on for
resources and support. WBP believes that a Seattle base will allow for
fresh ideas and a more politically unbiased perspective.