What happens when the language of the law becomes a vulgar tongue? What happens, more particularly, when parties to bioethical disputes are obliged to borrow in their daily controversies, the ideas, and even the language, peculiar to judicial proceedings? How suited are the habits and tastes and thus the language of the judicial magistrate to the political, and more particularly, the bioethical, questions of our time? We must ask these questions because, as the incomparable Tocqueville foresaw, it has become American practice to resolve political—and moral—questions into judicial questions. We now reverently refer to the Supreme Court as the great arbiter of American moral life, as performing a "prophetic function," as expressing what "we stand for as a people." Lower courts, as L.A. Law wants to teach us, likewise are considered forums for the apotheosis of social and moral reasoning. Certainly bioethical issues in our time have been presented to the public in legal terms, in cases ranging from Quinlan to Cruzan to Glucksberg, in the constitutional principles of Roe v Wade, in referenda in Washington, California, Oregon, and Michigan, in the law's travails with Jack Kevorkian, in the tribulations and trials of Baby Doe and Baby M.
Publication Information & Recommended Citation
Schneider, Carl E. "Concluding Thoughts: Bioethics in the Language of the Law." In Law at the End of Life: The Supreme Court and Assisted Suicide, edited by Carl E. Schneider, 291-300. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000. (Adapted from an article published as 'Bioethics in the Language of the Law.' Hastings Ctr. Rep. 24, no. 4 (1994): 16-22.)