A Decade of Empirical Research in
Jeremy Sugarman, Ruth Faden, and
While philosophical, legal, and religious scholarship has traditionally dominated the field of medical ethics, empirical, data-based research with methodological roots in the social sciences has gradually assumed an important role in the field. In this chapter, we set out to describe the inclusion of empirical literature in the field of medical ethics during the first decade in which data on this question are readily available, the 1980s. We provide empirical answers to the following specific empirical questions: What topics in bioethics were empirically studied? What methods were used to study these topics? Who was studied in this research? How did empirical research in medical ethics change?
We constructed a database of empirical medical ethics literature by downloading a comprehensive computerized search in BIOETHICSLINE, a database maintained by the National Reference Center for Bioethics (NRCB) that first came on-line in 1979 and is available through the National Library of Medicine. We chose to conduct our search with BIOETHICSLINE because this database is undoubtedly the most comprehensive resource for identifying citations of relevance to medical ethics. Bibliographers for BIOETHICSLINE use a variety of techniques to capture material that is of relevance to medical ethics, including systematically reviewing journals in which empirical studies in medical ethics are likely to be published (Kahn 1995).
In this analysis, we focus on the empirical research that was published in the first full decade after BIOETHICSLINE came on-line, specifically 1980-89. Since BIOETHICSLINE is updated many times each year, making the total number of publications published each year a moving target, we selected as the base for our calculations those postings that would have been present in the database as of June 1992. Selecting this date minimized the likelihood of missing publications due to a delay in cataloging. Although BIOETHICSLINE does not keep such data, it is not unusual for a posting to lag publica-