Elizabeth Chloe Romanis, PhD candidate in Bioethics & Medical Law, University of Manchester received an IME Conference Grant to present orally at the American Society of Bioethics & Humanities Conference, Pittsburgh, Oct 2019. Read her report below:

Thanks to support from the IME travel funds for postgraduate research students I was able to attend the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities Annual Conference this year in Pittsburgh 24th-27th October 2019. The conference was enormous with a multitude of panels and presentations to choose from as well as big name keynotes and networking meetings and receptions. It was almost overwhelming, but incredibly exciting to have so much choice. Being interested primarily in reproduction, law and ethics – I was really spoilt.

Whilst there were so many different panels on a wide range of ethical issues to attend (everything from reproethics, to anthropology in medicine, to medical education) the theme for the conference was Bioethics and Resilience, and in all of the events I participated in the adherence to the theme was notable. There was a real attempt to focus on the structural and institutional inequalities in healthcare and how bioethics and the humanities can serve social justice and contribute meaningfully to discussions about change. I learnt a lot about how the responsibility of the humanities, and of academic scholarship, in the identification of and responding to social injustice. It is so important that in our work bioethicists do not pretend that our ideas exist in a vacuum or that bioethics is entirely separate from the political spaces in which we think.

No paper at the conference made this clearer than a paper by Ariella Messing and Rachel Fabi about 'Reproductive Injustice at the Border.' This paper emphasised the importance of embedding our thinking about reproductive rights in context to expose injustice. They made a compelling argument about how there was clear evidence of reproductive oppression at the US-Mexico border and that this was part of the considered and deliberate attempt by the current US administration to deter immigration. In immigration detention centres there is routine denial of abortion care to incarcerated pregnant people. Equally, there is clear disregard of the right to have children in the denial of prenatal care to pregnant people and of the right to parent in the routine separation of families in centres. Messing and Fabi posit that such injustice demands action from bioethics. There can be no such thing as an innocent bystander in the face of such abuse.

A keynote by Margaret Battin ('Death and Sex: Using Thought Experiments with Modern Technology' was another of the main highlights of the conference for me. In this talk she considered how the thought experiment has normative force in considering the real-life implications of different conditions in real life issues, with social justice, equality and dignity at their centre. She argues that most objections to thought experiments normally come from thinking about how we get from here to there because in our current world – race, gender and class oppression are pervasive and so it is hard to imagine the subject of the thought experiment without inequality. She argues that this is the wrong way to think – thought experiments should do their normative work by seeing if we can imagine a world in which equality is realised and then work backwards to see how we can get there. She made her argument by suggesting that the world would be a better place if everyone, that is all fertile persons (whether female or male), routinely used long-acting, effective, reversible and 'forgettable' contraception all the time. She posited that in this world 'everyone would have to make a positive choice to have a baby.' I wasn't sure I was convinced, but it gave me a lot to think about.

At the conference I also presented my most recent paper 'Artificial Womb Technology and Clinical Translation' (which at the time was not yet published) on a panel about ethics in paediatric research. It was a great opportunity to get feedback from bioethicists in the US about my work because I am soon to be submitting my PhD and this paper features in my thesis.

I am really grateful to the IME for facilitating my attendance at this event.

Elizabeth Chloe Romanis, PhD candidate in Bioethics & Medical Law, University of Manchester