Research Integrity

what is bioethics?

Bioethics is the discipline dealing with the ethical implications of both biological research and the applications of that research, especially in medicine. It is a newer, broader field of study that has arisen during the past twenty or thirty years. It will become increasingly more important to the future as the biological revolution opens up new powers, new choices, and new dilemmas. For example, cancer and AIDS have brought about fundamental changes in the accepted ethics principles – with the rise of autonomy as a cardinal principle.

Perhaps the most striking development in the study of ethics during the second half of the 20th century has been the growing interest among philosophers in applied ethics - i.e., the application of normative theories to practical moral problems. Such moral issues as racial and sexual equality, human rights, and justice have become prominent, as have questions about the value of human life raised by controversies over abortion and euthanasia. Related to the latter are the ethical implications of various developments in regard to reproduction as, for example, in vitro fertilisation, sperm banks, gene manipulation, and cloning. This field of applied ethics, known as bioethics, frequently involves the cooperative efforts of philosophers, physicians, scientists, lawyers, and theologians.

  • Bioethics has been used in the last twenty years to describe the investigation and a study of ways in which decisions in medicine and science touch upon our health and lives and upon our society and environment.
  • Bioethics is concerned with questions about basic human values such as the rights to life and health, and the rightness or wrongness of certain developments in healthcare institutions, life technology, medicine, the health professions and about society’s responsibility for the life and health of its members.
  • Bioethics involves issues relating to the beginning and end of human life, all the way from issues relating to in vitro fertilisation and abortion to euthanasia and palliative care.
  • Bioethics has an impact on every level of human community from the local nursing home to the huge international conferences on issues like the Human Genome.
  • Bioethics is a branch of applied ethics and requires the expertise of people working in a wide range disciplines including: law, philosophy, theology, medicine, the life sciences, nursing and social science.
  • Bioethics is full of difficult ethical questions for everybody: families, hospitals, governments and civilisation. Fundamental values are at stake: human life, the dignity of the frail and elderly, just health care, bodily integrity and the ability to make reasonable decisions.
       

 

Last updated:
30-Jun-2014

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adri.labuschagne@mrc.ac.za

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