Re-Moralising Medicine: The Bioethical Thought Collective and the Regulation of the Body in British Medical Research

David Reubi, 2013, Social Theory and Health, 11, 215-235

The way in which the scientific and medical use of the human body is problematised and governed in the United Kingdom was radically reconfigured over the last 30 years, changing from a logic of rule articulated around ‘supply’ and ‘solidarity’ to one construed around ‘ethics’. Drawing on the work of Ludwik Fleck and others, this article argues that one of the reasons for this reconfiguration was the existence and influence of a network of philosophers, doctors and lawyers who sought, from the 1960s onwards, to re-moralise medicine: the bioethical thought collective. The article first describes the collective’s membership and organisation, focusing in particular on the form of the interdisciplinary expert committee. It also describes some of the knowledge and practices that make up the community’s thought style, such as its moral concern about modern medicine and the notions of respect for persons and informed consent. The article then shows how these organisational forms, knowledge and practices that characterise the collective have shaped the government of human tissue research over the last 15 years. By highlighting the important role played by expert networks and knowledge, the article makes an original contribution to the sociology of the ethical government of biomedical science.