Encyclopedia of Life Sciences - Vol. 2

By Anne O’Daly | Go to book overview

BIOETHICS

Bioethics deals with questions of right and wrong that arise in biology, biotechnology, and medicine

Many animals are used in
research for the benefit of
humans every year, and for
some this practice raises
serious ethical issues
.

Bioethics lies at the intersection of one of the oldest questions about life and some of the newest technologies for manipulating life. In ancient Greece, philosopher Socrates (ca. 470–399 bce) asked the question that defines ethics: how are we to live? Although it encompasses questions about the validity of different moral rules and values that tell people what they ought and ought not to do, Socrates’ question also demands that people examine the whole shape of their lives. The question also leaves the identity of the “we” open: whom should 1 consider when figuring out what to do: just myself, my family, my fellow citizens, and my species—or beyond? Although many ethical problems are well defined and it is relatively straightforward to identify the relevant parties, an ethical question may change into quite a different one when the scope is extended or restricted to include different parties.


CORE FACTS
Questions of ethics are questions about what kind of
lives people would like to lead; they include moral
questions about what people ought to do, what is
permitted, and what is prohibited.
Bioethics deals with ethical questions arising from
practice and research in medicine and biotechnology.
Important issues in bioethics include abortion, euthanasia
(mercy killing), the patenting of life, and human
relationships with the environment and other species.
a Ethical questions are some of the most important and
serious types of questions. There are so many conflicting
points of view that guidelines have to be agreed upon.
The law, personal morality, and ethical guidelines drawn
up by professional associations are often in conflict.

CONNECTIONS
ABORTION and
EUTHANASIA are
very important issues
in bioethics.
New and difficult
ethical problems have
arisen from develop-
ments in GENETIC
ENGINEERING

and from the
HUMAN GENOME
PROJECT

The term bioethics was coined in 1970 by Van Rensselaer Potter II (1911–2001), a U.S. biochemist and cancer researcher in Wisconsin, to describe a discipline that protected human health and the environment and bridged the gap between science and the humanities. The focus of the professional discipline of bioethics has narrowed to biomedical ethics, a major part of which is concerned with the ethical dimensions of the physician-patient relationship. However, these disciplinary divisions are somewhat arbitrary, and ethical questions concerning human health, animal welfare, and conservation of ecosystems are closely related.

Some of the issues that bioethics deals with, such as whether euthanasia should be permitted, date back to the first code of medical ethics drawn up by Greek physician Hippocrates (ca. 460–377 BCE), sometimes called the father of medicine. However, these issues have been given new dimensions by technological advances such as life-support machines. In other cases new technology seems to raise entirely new questions: for example, developments in genetic engineering might allow human cloning. Is the manipulation of life-forms by genetic engineering different in an ethically relevant way from traditional breeding? Does the manipulation of human genetic material contravene laws of God or nature? What types ot manipulation of the human germ line (reproductive cells), if any, are acceptable? Would a cloned human have a soul? Yet other questions in bioethics are likely to remain purely theoretical for some time. For example, what kind of moral rules should guide human relationships with any extraterrestrial life forms that might be encountered or any complex artificial life-forms that are created?


ISSUES IN BIOETHICS

Issues in bioethics turn on key concepts such as autonomy (self-determination, that is, owning one’s choices), beneficence (doing good and not doing harm), justice (fairness), utility, and rights. In medical ethics patient autonomy is often considered to be the most important principle, but it must be balanced with other considerations. While many people might strongly agree that an individual should be

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Encyclopedia of Life Sciences - Vol. 2
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents iii
  • Useful Information 148
  • Artificial Life 149
  • Asthma 153
  • Atmosphere 154
  • Atp Production 158
  • Autism 161
  • Autoimmune Disorders 164
  • Bacteria 167
  • Bats 173
  • Beetles 177
  • Biennial Plants 179
  • Biochemistry 180
  • Biodiversity 183
  • Bioethics 187
  • Biogeography 192
  • Biological Control 195
  • Biological Warfare 197
  • Biology, History and Philosophy of 200
  • Bioluminescene 205
  • Biomes and Habitats 208
  • Bionics 212
  • Biorhythms 216
  • Biosphere 220
  • Biotechnology 221
  • Birds 228
  • Birds of Prey 234
  • Blood 238
  • Bone 248
  • Botanical Gardens 251
  • Botany 253
  • Brain 255
  • Bulbs and Corms 265
  • Butterflies and Moths 267
  • Cacti and Succulents 272
  • Caecilians 275
  • Calcium 277
  • Calorie 279
  • Camouflage and Mimicry 281
  • Index 287
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