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VulnerabilityNew Essays in Ethics and Feminist Philosophy$
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Catriona Mackenzie, Wendy Rogers, and Susan Dodds

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199316649

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199316649.001.0001

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Vulnerability and Bioethics

Vulnerability and Bioethics

(p.60) 2 Vulnerability and Bioethics

Wendy Rogers

Oxford University Press

Vulnerability is a key concept in bioethics. Research ethics guidelines mandate the protection of vulnerable participants; the principles of clinical ethics are underpinned by the vulnerability of ill health; and public health ethics is concerned with the health inequities experienced by vulnerable populations. In these different areas of bioethics, the concept of vulnerability is used in two ways. Vulnerability is understood either to be a universal ontological condition of human existence, or to be associated with contextual factors, signifying increased risk of harms for particular individuals or groups. This essay shows how lack of conceptual clarity about vulnerability leads to confusion about who the vulnerable are and what duties are owed them in the areas of health care, research and public health. The essay argues that greater clarity concerning the concept of vulnerability will not only make a contribution to bioethics, but also to an ethics of vulnerability more generally.

Keywords:   vulnerability, bioethics, research ethics, clinical ethics, public health ethics

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