Bruce Jennings

Vanderbilt University
Health Policy and Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society

Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society
2525 West End Ave., Suite 400
Nashville, TN
37203 |  Visit Personal Website

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My current research focuses on the relationship between policy analysis and normative political theory. Drawing on conceptual frameworks of civic republicanism and deliberative democratic theory, I am working in the areas of health policy, public health, and environmental policy. Currently my specific research and writing projects are focused on: (1) the politics and ethics of solidarity; (2) the concept of membership and its norms; (3) the role of the concept of nature or naturalness in policy debates in health and biotechnology.

Jennings, Bruce. 2016. “Right Relation and Right Recognition in Public Health Ethics: Thinking through the Republic of Health,” Public Health Ethics, 9, no. 2, 168-177.
Abstract: The further development of public health ethics will be assisted by a more direct engagement with political theory. In this way, the moral vocabulary of the liberal tradition should be supplemented—but not supplanted—by different conceptual and normative resources available from other traditions of political and social thought. This article discusses four lines of further development that the normative conceptual discourse of public health ethics might take. (i) The relational turn. The implications for public health ethics of the new ‘ecological’ or ‘relational’ interpretation that is emerging for concepts such as agency, self-identity, autonomy, liberty and justice. (ii) Governing the health commons. The framework of collective action problems is giving way to notions of democratic governance and management of common resources. (iii) The concept of membership. Membership is specified by the notions of equal respect and parity of voice and agency. (iv) The concept of mutuality. Mutuality is specified by the notions of interdependent concern and care.
DOI: doi:10.1093/phe/phv032
Bruce Jennings, 2016. “Reconceptualizing Autonomy: A Relational Turn in Bioethics,” Hastings Center Report 46, no. 3: 11-16.
Abstract: This review article discusses what I shall refer to as the relational turn in bioethics.This development may profoundly affect the critical questions that bioethics asks and the ethical guidance it offers society, politics, and policy. I shall focus on how the relational turn has manifested itself in work on core concepts in bioethics, especially liberty and autonomy. Following a general review, I conclude with a brief consideration of two important recent books in this area: Jennifer Nedelsky’s Law’s Relations and Rachel Haliburton’s Autonomy and the Situated Self.
DOI: DOI: 10.1002/ hast.544
Jennings, Bruce. 2016. “Putting the Bios Back into Bioethics: Prospects for Health and Climate Justice,” in Cheryl Cox Macpherson, ed. Climate Change and Health: Bioethical Insights into Values and Policy. New York: Springer Press, 11-37.
Abstract: Global climate change is the most complex and significant ethical issue of our time. The urgent discussion of how to bring about alterations in human energy usage and economic production in order to mitigate the social and ecosystemic harm done by climate change calls for a bioethics voice. But bioethics will not be able to make this contribution if it merely addresses climate change as one more in a series of problems or dilemmas. The nature of the climate change challenge is such that bioethics will have to alter fundamentally its discourse and broaden its moral horizons. This chapter argues that bioethics should become more discerning and insightful concerning matters of political power and economics. It will also do well to establish new ties and overlapping perspectives with the ecological sciences. The purpose of this chapter is to explore the structure and the logic of the encounter between bioethics—understood as a particular kind of discourse—and climate change—understood as a systemic challenge to human and ecological health. Extended consideration is given to what needs to be added to the conceptual range of bioethics in its engagement with climate change, with particular emphasis on the concepts of autonomy, membership, and solidarity.
Jennings, Bruce, Wertz, Frederick J., and Morrissey, Mary Beth. 2016. “Nudging for Health and the Predicament of Agency: The Relational Ecology of Autonomy and Care,” Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 36, 2 (May), 81-99.
Abstract: This article reflects on the implications of the concept of health and the questions it poses for moral philosophy, psychology, and the panoply of professions that are involved in the practices of care and in the ethics of individual rights, dignity, and autonomy. Significant among these questions is what we call “the predicament of agency.” The predicament involves the ethical tensions—arising within the broad concept of health and flourishing, but also in concrete everyday practice and relationships—between supporting individual health outcomes and supporting health and flourishing through respect for autonomy and self-direction.
Jennings, Bruce and Dawson, Angus. 2015. "Solidarity in the Moral Imagination of Bioethics," Hastings Center Report 45 (5): 31-38.
Abstract: A discussion of developing the concept of solidarity to provide a more systemic critical perspective on bioethical issues and to off set a highly individualistic worldview and political culture. A developmental account of solidarity as a practice is presented.
DOI: 10.1002/hast.490
Jennings, Bruce. 2015. "Relational Liberty Revisited: Membership, Solidarity, and a Public Health Ethics of Place," Public Health Ethics 8 (1): 7-17.
Abstract: Developing the normative foundations of relational values in public health and arguing that such values are closely related to a sense of place. These values and a sense of emplaced self-identity and agency have a direct bearing on health related behaviors and the social determinants of health.
DOI: 10.1093/phe/phu045
“Design for Dying: New Directions in Hospice and End of Life Care,” in Timothy W. Kirk and Bruce Jennings, eds. Hospice Ethics: Emerging Issues in Policy and Practice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, 285-308.
Abstract: Discussion of the history of policy and legal reform in end of life care. Recommendations concerning further improvements in end of life decision making and palliative care.
Dawson, Angus and Jennings, Bruce. 2013. “The Place of Solidarity in Public Health Ethics,” Public Health Reviews, Vol. 34. No. 1, 1-15.
Abstract: A discussion of the importance of the concept of solidarity in public health policy and public health ethics. Various conceptualizations and definitions of solidarity in the literature are reviewed, and a particular approach to understanding the concept is defended. Solidarity is not one ethical principle on a list of other principles; it functions as a matrix for the interpretation and application of other normative principles, such as justice, rights, and equal respect.
Jennings, Bruce. 2013. “Biotechnology as Cultural Meaning: Reflections on the Moral Reception of Synthetic Biology,” in Gregory Kaebnick and Thomas H. Murray, eds. Synthetic Biology and Morality: Artificial Life and the Bounds of Nature, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013, 149-176.
Abstract: A discussion of normative objections to the human manipulation of natural systems that are not simply grounded in risk of harm to human health and well-being. Ethical critiques of biotechnology and biopower beyond the harm principle are important in the cultural reception of scientific and technological innovations such as synthetic biology. Such critiques are therefore important for policymakers and the scientific community to understand and to take seriously.
Berlinger, Nancy, Jennings, Bruce, and Wolf, Susan. 2013. The Hastings Center Guidelines for Decisions on Life-Sustaining Treatment and Care Near the End of Life: Revised and Expanded Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press.
Jennings, Bruce and Arras, John 2012. “Ethical Guidance for Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response: Highlighting Ethics and Values in a Vital Public Health Service,”(available at:
Jennings, Bruce and Morrissey, Mary Beth 2011. “Health Care Costs in End-of-Life and Palliative Care: The Quest for Ethical Reform,” Journal of Social Work in End of Life and Palliative Care, 7:4 (December) : 300-317 .
Jennings, Bruce. 2010. “Enlightenment and Enchantment: Technology and Moral Limits,” Technology in Society 32 (1): 25-30.
Jennings, Bruce 2010. “Beyond the Social Contract of Consumption," Critical Policy Studies 4 (3): 222-233.
Jennings, Bruce. 2009. "Public Health and Liberty." Public Health Ethics 2 (2): 123-134.

Substantive Focus:
Environmental Policy SECONDARY
Health Policy PRIMARY
Social Policy

Theoretical Focus:
Policy History SECONDARY
Policy Analysis and Evaluation PRIMARY