Publishing Feminist Bioethics and IJFAB: Looking Back, Looking Forward

August 1, 2016

With this post, we introduce a series by the new editors of IJFAB: International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics addressing issues of importance to feminist bioethicists around the world. We hope to pique your interest and that you’ll participate in the discussion by lending your voice to it.

This month’s contribution comes from Jackie Leach Scully, a professor of Social Ethics and Bioethics at Newcastle University and the director of its Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Research Centre. Scully is the author of Disability Bioethics: Moral Bodies, Moral Difference and Quaker Approaches to Moral Issues in Genetics and coeditor of Feminist Bioethics: At the Center, On the Margins. She considers the past and the future of publishing feminist bioethics and IJFAB.

September’s contribution will come from Jamie Lindemann Nelson, a professor of philosophy at Michigan State University, where she is also a faculty associate at the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences and core faculty at the Center for Gender in Global Context. Nelson is the author of more than 200 publications in philosophy, bioethics, law, and medicine, including three books (two coauthored with Hilde Lindemann), and two edited volumes. She will discuss the future of IJFAB and the topics and issues she expects the journal to explore in the coming years.

In October, Robyn Bluhm will discuss feminist bioethics and interdisciplinarity, as well as the relationships among feminist bioethics and other areas of philosophy. Bluhm is an associate professor at Michigan State University with a joint appointment in the Department of Philosophy and Lyman Briggs College. She has coedited two issues of Perspectives in Biology and Medicine on evidence based practice and is the coeditor of Neurofeminism: Issues at the Intersection of Feminist Theory and Cognitive Science.


Written by IJFAB Editor, Jackie Leach Scully.

IJFAB is turning ten, and a new editorial team taking over after a decade of skillful leadership by Mary C. Rawlinson, our founding editor. It’s a good moment to reflect on a number of things, including how feminist bioethics has changed in that time, and where feminist bioethics and this journal are heading.

When I first became active in feminist bioethics in the late 1990s, it was dominated by discussion of obviously gendered reproductive issues like abortion, surrogacy, and various kinds of assisted conception. The ten years since IJFAB 1.1 was published in 2006 have seen gradual acceptance that feminist bioethics is not solely concerned with those ethical problems rooted in the specifics of female reproduction. Of course, feminist scholars are still interested in, and writing about, those issues, and as novel reproductive interventions continue to move from the laboratory to the outside world, feminist bioethics has not ignored its responsibility to examine their implications for women. To take just two examples, the ethics of mitochondrial replacement or of uterus transplants has been extensively discussed on the IJFAB Blog and elsewhere.

But we’ve also seen a marked opening up of the range of topics considered legitimate issues for feminist bioethics to consider—and IJFAB has been instrumental in this shift. Alongside papers on mothering, new reproductive and genetic technologies, and infertility, volume 1, number 1 also focused on a feminist examination of heart transplants and a commentary on the Declaration of Helsinki “through a feminist lens.” Later special issues dealt with disability, biomedical research, psychiatry, and food. Papers in the open issues have tackled topics such as care worker migration, pandemics, vaccination, conscientious objection, and climate change, alongside broader theoretical work on vulnerability, epistemology, and autonomy.

So, feminist bioethics’ remit—or, at least, our understanding of it—has enlarged. But, of course, the world itself, and its concerns, hasn’t remained static either. In the last ten years, we’ve seen major biomedical and biotechnological developments, the emergence of new practices in health care and research, and issues of public health governance that all demanded bioethical and feminist scrutiny. (How successful any of that scrutiny was is a question for another time.)

As always, such field specific changes take place within social and political contexts – and the contexts themselves have undergone significant evolution too. To try to pick out “the most important” of these would be impossible, not least because of the interwoven complexity of the real world (something that feminist bioethics has always been rigorous about taking into account). High on any list would be the impact of globalization on health care, employment, migration, and communications; shifting patterns of inequality, and the increasing economic gulf in many parts of the world between classes and countries; and the rise of new states and economies, bringing different and often unfamiliar players to the landscape of international bioethical regulation and law. This last raises particular dilemmas for the North/Western scholars who make up the bulk of feminist bioethics, as we struggle to respond appropriately to cultures that we see marginalizing and oppressing women without perpetuating either that marginalization or the myth that the position of women in “our” societies is always and inevitably better than elsewhere.

Thus, it’s a fairly safe prediction that, over the next ten years, the world will continue to change, and the work of feminist bioethics will continue to respond to those technological, social, and political transformations. As one member of the new editorial team, I know I can speak for all of us in saying that we want to see IJFAB continue the tradition of our feminist foremothers: pushing at the taken-for-granted boundaries of the discipline and reaching into territory that might not seem, at first sight, to be obviously feminist or, indeed, bioethical. At our first editorial meeting earlier this summer, we discussed a number of ideas on possible subjects for special issues, including climate change and environmental catastrophe, war and conflict, the role of activism in bioethics, and more. We welcome offers from anyone interested in editing issues addressing these themes that take our substantive interests in exciting new directions.* There are other ways in which IJFAB has and will continue to be groundbreaking in bioethics: as someone with a background in life sciences who now works in philosophy and social science, and who has “done bioethics” around the world, I’ll be particularly happy to see us strengthening our interdisciplinarity and international cover. We’re open to suggestions for new features and formats as well.

We’re confident the upcoming generation of feminist bioethicists will be ready to tackle the emerging crucial bioethical issues of the years to come. IJFAB has an important role in that conversation, and we hope you will help us fulfill your expectations.

Jackie Leach Scully

* Editor’s Note: Please send expressions of interest to editorialoffice@ijfab.org.

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