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George Bernard Shaw famously said that all professions are conspiracies against the laity. Less famously, less elegantly, but at least as accurately, Andrew Abbott argued that professions are conspiracies against each other. Professions compete for authority to do work and for authority over work. The umpire in these skirmishes and sieges is the government, for the state holds the gift of monopoly and the power to regulate it. In Abbott's terms, "bioethics" is contesting medicine's power to influence the way doctors treat patients. If it follows the classic pattern, bioethics will solicit work and authority by recruiting government's power. A homely but exemplary recent case suggests one form that the struggle can take and some terms it may employ.


Reprinted with the permission of the Hastings Center Report and Wiley-Blackwell.