Bioethics: Institutionalisation of


Bioethics is a recognised discipline in the academy, an established practice within the clinic and a source of guidance for healthcare policy and the conduct of human research. As a complex of theoretical and practical undertakings, bioethics now commands an officially recognised cluster of norm‐setting and behaviour‐guiding roles that have become institutionalised elements of the scholarly, clinical, human research and public policy establishment. The integration of the antecedents of bioethics into these settings began in the 1960s but these activities were recognised under this name only at the end of the 1970s. By 1979, there was an established literature, numerous individuals who called themselves bioethicists and academic programmes engaged in bioethics. Efforts to professionalise bioethics by articulating a code of ethics and establishing practice standards are ongoing. Competing conceptions of expertise shape these efforts. Attention to bioethics internationally continues to grow, particularly as biotechnological developments raise new questions and concerns.

Key Concepts

  • The antecedents of bioethics emerged in the 1960s, and then the field took shape under this rubric in the 1970s.
  • Awareness of past abuses of human research subjects and the need to conduct more research to secure progress in medicine led to a focus on research ethics and the regulation and oversight of research.
  • Cultural shifts in the 1960s and 1970s that emphasised individuals' rights led to discussions about patients' rights and patient‐driven decisions.
  • The secularisation of U.S. society in the 1960s created space for discussions of medical morality among secular scholars who sought a secular source for moral guidance.
  • Bioethicists provide clinical and research ethics consultations, teach and conduct research in the academy and are involved in the creation of public policy.
  • Efforts to professionalise bioethics are ongoing.
  • Bioethics continues to seek substantive moral insight from secular sources.

Keywords: bioethicists; bioethics; clinical ethics; healthcare policy; medical ethics; research ethics


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Web Links

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Code of Federal Regulations,

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Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights

World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki,

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Engelhardt, HT, Iltis, Ana Smith, and Jotterand, Fabrice(Jul 2016) Bioethics: Institutionalisation of. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0006184.pub3]