Bioethics – Overview


Bioethics is a multidisciplinary field of study including ethical, legal, philosophical and social aspects of developments in life sciences and medicine. Its remit includes not only questions about options for action in relation to such developments but also definition of terms such as “life”, “death” and “person” as well as questions about the implications for how we understand human life in changing social contexts. There are multiple theoretical approaches to bioethics and this gives rise to controversy about its aims, objectives and methodologies, including the roles of contributory disciplines and the relations between them. The global dimension of many bioethical issues, such as differences in life expectancy, access to resources and the problems caused by pandemics, raise questions regarding the feasibility of a global bioethics.

Key Concepts

  • Bioethics is a multidisciplinary field of study.
  • Bioethics is wider than medical ethics.
  • Bioethics and genomics have co‐evolved.
  • Bioethics has moved from being predominantly individual‐centred to a greater emphasis on public health.
  • Questions of definition, for example, of life and death, are affected by technological developments and are part of the subject matter of bioethics.
  • The relation between philosophical work and empirical research is a matter for ongoing reflection.
  • Bioethics has both a theoretical aspect and a public policy role.
  • In the context of global challenges such as pandemics, the possibility of global bioethics becomes increasingly important.

Keywords: bioethics; medical ethics; human genome project; principlism; virtue ethics; global ethics; pubic engagement; justice


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Gordijn B and Chadwick R (2009) Medical Enhancement and Posthumanity. Dordrecht: Springer.

International Association of Bioethics (IAB) (2015) www.bioethics‐ Accessed on 18 April 2015

Kuhse H (1997) Caring: Nursing, Women and Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell.

MacIntyre A (1984) Does applied ethics rest on a mistake? The Monist 67 (4): 498–513.

Pellegrino ED and Thomasma DC (1993) The Virtues in Medical Practice. New York: Oxford University Press.

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Prainsack B and Buyx A (2011) Solidarity: Reflections on an Emerging Concept in Bioethics. London: Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

ten Have HAMJ and Gordijn B (2014) Handbook of Global Bioethics. Dordrecht: Springer.

UNESCO (2005) Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights UNESCO

Further Reading

Ashcroft R, Draper H, Dawson A and McMillan J (eds) (2007) Principles of Health Care Ethics, 2nd edn. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Daniels N (1985) Just Health Care. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Donchin A and Purdy LM (eds) (1999) Embodying Bioethics: Recent Feminist Advances Lanham. MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Doyal L and Tobias JS (eds) (2001) Informed Consent and Medical Research. London: BMJ Books.

Kuhse H and Peter S (eds) (2006) Bioethics: An Anthology, 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell.

Kuhse H and Peter S (eds) (2009) A Companion to Bioethics, 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell.

Manson NC and O'Neill O (2007) Rethinking Informed Consent in Bioethics Cambridge: University Press.

Nuffield Council on Bioethics (2012) Emerging Biotechnologies: Technology, Choice and the Public Good. London: Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

Petersen A (2011) The Politics of Bioethics. London: Routledge.

Sherwin S (1992) No Longer Patient: Feminist Ethics and Health Care. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

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Chadwick, Ruth F(Jul 2015) Bioethics – Overview. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003473.pub2]