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
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
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
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All links retrieved February 3, 2022.
- Eubios Ethics Institute
- American Journal of Bioethics
- American Society for Bioethics and Humanities
- Bioethics for clinicians: Islamic bioethics - Canadian Medical Association Journal
- Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity
- Center for Bioethics and Culture Network
- Centro Interdisciplinario de Estudios en Bioética
- Human Genetics in Intercultural Perspective
- National Catholic Bioethics Center
- Organizacion Panamericana de la Salud
- Treuman Katz Center for Pediatric Bioethics
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