What is bioethics?

We explain what bioethics is, what its principles and history are. In addition, what is it for and some examples of this ethics.

  1. What is bioethics?

The concept of bioethics refers to the ethics of life or biology . Of Greek origin, the term  bios  means “life” while  ethos  means “ethics.”

The biochemist and oncologist Van Rensselaer Potter was one of the first, in the 1970s, to use the word bioethics and tried to define it as an intellectual discipline whose  object of study is the “problem of the survival of humanity . ” At the same time, he considered that it could be used as a “bridge” between life sciences – in all its scopes – and classical ethics.

  1. Principles of bioethics

Bioethics - baby - life
Bioethics works for welfare, seeking to protect without harming.

The researchers and experts who founded bioethics as a discipline established four principles:

  • Respect for autonomy.  This principle states that the possibility that people have to choose and decide for themselves must be respected . This implies that there should be no limitations or interference with the person when making a decision .
  • Charity.  This principle establishes an equation between cost and benefit. This goes beyond harming third parties: it involves working for welfare, protecting without harming.
  • No hex. This principle refers to promoting good, as well as the prohibition of harming or carrying out malicious actions. Basically, you can’t harm or harm third parties to save a life .
  • Justice. The last principle implies that there is equity between three key issues: costs , benefits and risks . At the same time, it is synonymous with an equitable sharing between responsibilities , material assets and rights.
  1. Bioethics History

Bioethics has its origins in Egypt and Mesopotamia . It was there that the first regulations related to medicine were detected. It is to Hippocrates (Greece, 460-370 BC) and to whom the Hippocratic Oath is awarded, that is, a mandatory guide that guides doctors in their work.

On the other hand, scholasticism advanced in a moral theology that addresses the issues of natural laws, as well as the conservation of life. Since the seventeenth century began to register books and texts that addressed, jointly, morals and medicine. These ideas, soon after, made a leap into the secular world, and are considered the origins of Medical Deontology.

Beyond these origins, in which the term “bioethics” as such did not exist, in general, the history of this discipline is divided into two major stages: before Potter and after Potter .

The Before Potter stage includes the two aforementioned items: the Hippocratic Oath and Medical Deontology. The stage called After Potter is located within the period from the Nuremberg Code to the first heart transplant, which Christian Barnard carried out in 1967.

Simply put, the Nuremberg Code is a set of principles that regulate experimentation with human beings  and was the result of the Nuremberg Trials that were carried out after the end of World War II .

  1. What is bioethics for?

Bioethics - Nuclear Plant
Bioethics regulates the advances that put the environment and the Earth at risk.

Four fields can be identified in which bioethics as a discipline should be applied and have to do with regulation in scientific advances. Bioethics states that not everything that is scientifically possible is necessarily ethically admissible.

The four fields to consider are the following:

  • Regulation of the advances of genetics. This includes everything that has links to birth, including cloning .
  • Regulation of those advances that put the environment and the planet Earth at risk.  In this case, control should be taken of all those practices that endanger natural habitats, air or water , as well as limit everything that leads to global warming .
  • Regulation in those advances and knowledge that have to do with procreation.  This includes abortion, contraceptive methods , assisted fertilization and natal regulations.
  • Regulation in health centers.  This has to do with practices such as euthanasia, palliative care and even the care given to people who are in intensive care.
  1. Bioethics Examples

Bioethics - blood transfusion
Blood transfusion is a debated topic in which bioethics can be applied.

Bioethics is usually applied in very specific cases that, due to their characteristics, generate debates of all kinds. Some examples of these cases are the following:

  • Blood transfusions
  • The use of chemical or nuclear weapons.
  • The termination of pregnancy (abortion).
  • The use of animals to carry out experiments and tests of new medicines or vaccines.
  • Organ donation
  • The duration of life or quality of life .
  • Euthanasia.
  1. Bioethics in philosophy

Bioethics was influenced by various philosophical currents, ranging from Plato to  Marxism , through Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, pragmatism and utilitarianism.

Broadly speaking, different theoretical schools that influence bioethics can be identified:

  • Most bioethical. It is governed by the four principles mentioned above.
  • The universalist bioethics.  Considers that, when making a decision in which there is a dilemma, you must choose the option choose the majority. Part of the idea that consensus is the best form of authority.
  • Personalistic bioethics.  Believes that the focus of the debate is on each person and their dignity . It is always governed by the ultimate good of the person.
  • Utilitarian bioethics. It is governed by the following principle: “The greatest good for the greatest number of people.”

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