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How Bioethicists Want Doctors to Approach LGBT Patients Differently

in UNITED STATES, 06/09/2013

Dr. Lance Wahlert is a codirector of The Project on Bioethics, Sexuality, and Gender Identity at the University of Pennsylvania who is leading the way in establishing the burgeoning academic field of Queer Bioethics. He explains some of the issues he’s studying and why the medical community needs to start thinking differently about LGBT issues.

What is queer bioethics?

Well, bioethics is the study of the ethically and morally correct things to do for patients, families and research subjects in science and medicine. Queer bioethics is an attempt to make sure that kind of work is being attentive to the special needs of LGBT persons, largely because science and medicine have been historically not supportive of those needs. A lot of work has been done in the humanities on queer theory, but not as much has been done that has reached the medical and clinical communities.

Why are these questions so important right now?

Pretty much all the nomenclature and terminology we have — homosexual, intersex, and so on — they’re late 19th century conventions. They’re from a time when we only understood gender or sexuality difference to be a sin or a crime. So the very terms we use today come out of pathology. Part of why it’s so important that we’re sensitive to the medical and scientific needs of this community is that in many ways, their identities were in some fashion born out of science and technology.

What’s an example of an issue that queer bioethics would tackle?

Here’s an example: With transgender persons, on the one hand, it’s not right to pathologize a person as sick for having those differences. On the other hand, they sort of need that pathology, to gain access to all kinds of medical services and have the insurance to provide them. So it’s a complicated relationship and issue.

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