The term bioethics was first coined by American biochemist Van Rensselaer Potter to describe a new philosophy that integrates biology, ecology, medicine, and human values.
In the broader sense of the term, bioethics encompasses both biomedical ethics, dealing with questions of ethics related to medicine, and environmental ethics, dealing with ecological ethics, such as respect for the environment, treatment of animals, and maintenance of biodiversity. At times, the term is used in a narrower sense as synonymous with biomedical ethics. For example, a main journal of biomedical ethics is named the American Journal of Bioethics.
Scope of bioethics
Main article: Ethics
Bioethics concerns the ethical questions that arise in the relationships between biology, medicine, history and social science, politics, law, philosophy, and theology.
Disagreement exists about the proper scope for the application of ethical evaluation to questions involving biology. Some bioethicists would narrow ethical evaluation only to the morality of medical treatments or technological innovations, and the timing of medical treatment of humans. Other bioethicists would broaden the scope of ethical evaluation to include the morality of all actions that might help or harm organisms capable of feeling fear and pain.
Bioethics involves many public policy questions that are often politicized and used to mobilize political constituencies, hence the emergence of biopolitics and its techno-progressive/bioconservative axis. For this reason, some biologists and others involved in the development of technology have come to see any mention of “bioethics” as an attempt to derail their work and react to it as such, regardless of the true intent. Some biologists can be inclined to this line of thought, as they see their work as inherently ethical, and attacks on it as misguided.
Ideology and methodology
Bioethicists often focus on using philosophy to help analyze issues, and philosophical bioethicists, such as Peter Singer, tend to treat the field as a branch of moral or ethical philosophy. However, this approach is sometimes challenged, and bioethics is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary. Many bioethicists come from backgrounds outside of academic philosophy, and some even claim that the methods of analytic philosophy have had a negative effect on the field’s development. Many today are emphasizing empirical methods and in fact the dominance of this approach has also been questioned.
Religious bioethicists have developed rules and guidelines on how to deal with these issues from within the viewpoint of their respective faiths. Some Western secular bioethicists are critical of the fact that these are usually religious scholars without an academic degree or training in disciplines that pertain to the issues, such as philosophy (wherein the formal study of ethics is usually found), biology or medicine.
Many religious bioethicists are Jewish or Christian scholars. However a growing number of religious scholars from other religions have become involved in this field as well. Islamic clerics have begun to write on this topic, such as Muslim bioethicist Abdulaziz Sachedina. There has been some criticism by liberal Muslims that only the more religiously conservative voices in Islam are being heard on this issue.
In the case of most non-Western cultures, a strict separation of religion from philosophy does not exist. In many Asian cultures, there is a lively (and often less dogmatic, but more pragmatic) discussion on bioethical issues. The discussion often refers to common demographic policies that are criticized, as in the case of China. Buddhist bioethics, in general, is characterized by a naturalistic outlook that leads to a rationalistic, pragmatic approach. Buddhist bioethicists include Damien Keown. In Africa, and partly also in Latin America, the debate on bioethics frequently focus on its practical relevance in the context of underdevelopment and (national or global) power relations.
The future of Bioethics is still evolving, with advocates such as Dr. Peter Whitehouse calling for “deep bioethics” akin to “deep ecology”. where the moral status of non-human forms of life are considered. Deep Bioethics is perhaps more challenging to secular bioethicists than even global ethics because it values intuition and bases some of its ethical conclusions on a spiritual connection with nature.
Some of the major focuses on present day bioethics include attitudes necessary for sustaining life on this planet, implications of genetic technology, new models for health with an emphasis on wellness, and lessons from spiritual traditions to create a better world.
Bioethical issues include:
List of bioethicists
- Beauchamp, T. L., and J. T. Childress. 2001. Principles of Biomedical Ethics. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195143329.
- Orr, R. D., and L. B. Genesen. 1997. Requests for inappropriate treatment based on religious beliefs. Journal of Medical Ethics 23: 142-147.
- Potter, V. R. 1971. Bioethics: Bridge to the Future. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0130765058
- Potter, V. R. 1988. Global Bioethics: Building on the Leopold Legacy. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press. ISBN 0870132644
- Sloan, R. P., E. Bagiella, and T. Powlell. 1999. Religion, spirituality, and medicine. The Lancet 353 (9153): 1-7.
- Thomas, J. 1996. Where religious and secular ethics meet. Humane Health Care International 12 (1), January 1996.
- Al Khayat, M. H. 1995. Health and Islamic behaviour. In A. R. El Gindy (editor), Health Policy, Ethics and Human Values: Islamic perspective. Kuwait: Islamic Organization of Medical Sciences.
- Ebrahim, A. F. M. 1989. Abortion, Birth Control and Surrogate Parenting. An Islamic Perspective. Indianapolis. ISBN 0892590815
- Esposito, J. (ed.) 1995. Surrogate motherhood. In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World (vol. 4). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195096150
- Karic, E. 2004. The ethics of Cloning. Islamica Magazine 11 (Fall/Winter). “[http://www.islamicamagazine.com/content/view/181/63/
- Bleich, J. D. 1981. Judaism and Healing. New York: Ktav. ISBN 087068891X
- Dorff, E. N. 1998. Matters of Life and Death: A Jewish Approach to Modern Medical Ethics. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society. ISBN 0827606478
- Feldman, D. M. 1974. Marital relations, birth control, and abortion in Jewish law. New York: Schocken Books.
- Freedman, B. 1999. Duty and healing: foundations of a Jewish bioethic. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415921791
- Jakobovits, I. 1959. Jewish Medical Ethics. New York: Bloch Publishing.
- Mackler, A. L. (ed.) 2000. Life & Death Responsibilities in Jewish Biomedical Ethics. New York: JTS. ISBN 0873340817.
- Maibaum M. 1986. A ‘progressive’ Jewish medical ethics: Notes for an agenda. Journal of Reform Judaism 33(3):27-33.
- Rosner, F. 1986. Modern Medicine and Jewish Ethics. New York: Yeshiva University Press. ISBN 0881250910
- Zohar, N. J. 1997. Alternatives in Jewish Bioethics. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0791432734
- Conservative Judaism Vol. 54(3), Spring 2002 (contains a set of six articles on bioethics)
- Colson, C. W. (ed.) 2004. Human Dignity in the Biotech Century: A Christian Vision for Public Policy. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press. ISBN 0830827838
- Demy, T. J., and G. P. Stewart. 1998. Suicide: A Christian Response: Crucial Considerations for Choosing Life. Grand Rapids: Kregel. ISBN 0825423554
- Kilner, J. et al. 1995. Bioethics and the Future of Medicine: A Christian Appraisal. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 0802840817
- Kilner, J. F., A. B. Miller, and E. D. Pellegrino. (eds.). 1996. Dignity and Dying: A Christian Appraisal. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co.; and Carlisle, United Kingdom: Paternoster Press. ISBN 0802842321
- Meilaender, G. 2004. Bioethics: A Primer For Christians. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 0802842348
- Pope Paul VI. 1968. Humanae Vitae: Human Life. Vatican City.
- Pope John Paul II. 1995. Evangelium Vitae: The Gospel of Life. New York: Random House. ISBN 0812926714
- Smith, W. J. 2004. Consumer’s Guide to A Brave New World. San Francisco: Encounter Books. ISBN 1893554996
- Smith, W. J. 2000. Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America. San Francisco: Encounter Books. ISBN 1893554066
- Smith, W. J. 1997. Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Murder. New York: Times Books. ISBN 0812927907
- Stewart, G. P. et al. 1998. Basic Questions on Suicide and Euthanasia: Are They Ever Right? BioBasics Series. Grand Rapids: Kregel. ISBN 0825430720
- Stewart, G. P. et al. (1998). Basic Questions on End of Life Decisions: How Do We Know What’s Right? Grand Rapids: Kregel. ISBN 0825430704
Adapted from New World Encyclopedia