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Abstract

The development of an occupation into a profession is an historical process that concerns power, jurisdiction, social contracts, and economic interests. Sociological theories of professionalization view these developments through perspectives of superior work, pay for performance, historical processes, jurisdictional disputes, struggles of social and economic power, and virtues. This essay explores these theories and examines the field of bioethics through each of these lenses looking at such issues amateur versus professional, education, professional organizations, specialized knowledge, code of ethics, jurisdiction, work sites, work focus, research, socialization, professional autonomy, licensure, legislation, and prestige. Bioethics is seen as falling in the middle of Goode’s “profession continuum.” While bioethics has adopted some of the necessary characteristics of a profession, having those elements is not a sufficient condition to being a profession. In the end, professionalization is undesirable for the field.

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