What Is Bioethics?

What Is Bioethics?

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg examines the technological advances and ethics of modern medicine. On an average working day about three quarters of a million of us go to the doctor’s. About a hundred thousand are visited by nurses and other health professionals. Then there are the three hundred thousand that go to the dentist. Health is a central preoccupation. It is also big business, saving life, lengthening life and even promising a stab at eternal life. Yet while some technology is Space Age, the morality is often not far away from the Stone Age. Who decides who lives or dies? Insurance firms, for instance, want genetic information - should they have it? Stem cell research - hailed by many as an extraordinary advance - now runs into conflict with those who do not want the human embryo to be, as they see it, abused. In the 16th century Francis Bacon told us in his Advancement of Learning “Medicine is a science which hath been more professed than laboured, and yet more laboured than advanced: the labour having been, in my judgement, rather in a circle than in a progression”. Well, after a century that has brought us penicillin, the discovery of DNA, heart transplants and key-hole surgery, have we finally escaped the loop? Or does our ethical application of what we can technologically achieve mean we are marching in Bacon’s circle still?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Medical Ethics

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Starting near the end of World War II and continuing until the 1970s, the US government sponsored radiation experiments on human subjects. Some of these experiments were conducted to understand the effects of radiation on atomic bomb workers. Others were to learn about the benefits of radiation for cancer patients. Many of the experiments were conducted in secret or not well understood by the public.

Twenty years ago, a committee appointed by President Bill Clinton reported on decades of radiation experiments conducted under the auspices of the federal government.

I was a senior staff member of that committee. Even though I had been teaching bioethics for 15 years, I was stunned to discover that my understanding of my field was drastically incomplete. I failed to appreciate that national security was the reason for many experiments in the history of medicine...

Continue reading Jonathan D Moreno's article: How national security gave birth to bioethics 

Further Reading

Bioethics is a rather young academic inter-disciplinary field that has emerged rapidly as a particular moral enterprise against the background of the revival of applied ethics in the second half of the twentieth century. The notion of bioethics is commonly understood as a generic term for three main sub-disciplines: medical ethics, animal ethics, and environmental ethics. Each sub-discipline has its own particular area of bioethics, but there is a significant overlap of many issues, ethical approaches, concepts, and moral considerations. This makes it difficult to examine and to easily solve vital moral problems such as abortion, xenotransplantation, cloning, stem cell research, the moral status of animals and the moral status of nature (the environment). In addition, the field of bioethics presupposes at least some basic knowledge of important life sciences, most notably medicine, biology (including genetics), biochemistry, and biophysics in order to deal successfully with particular moral issues....

Continue reading the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Bioethics

Bonus Webcomic

Related Topics

If you’re interested in bioethics, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

 Animal EthicsBiotechnology | Death | Enhancement | Euthanasia

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