What Is Bioethics: Definition And Theories

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What is the bioethics definition? Bioethics is a field which asks ethical questions and tries to find ethical solutions to medical and scientific issues. In this article, we’ll give you the full bioethics definition, the major issues that bioethics grapples with, and the improvements that bioethics make in many important fields.



Bioethics Definition


Bioethics is a branch of ethics which is concerned with the research and application of biology. Typically, bioethics weighs issues within medical advancements, health science, and other medical fields such as reproduction and genetics.


Essentially, bioethics is the philosophical approach to medicine, and uses various philosophical schools as applied ethics for medical and legal issues. Common philosophical schools which are popular in bioethics are Kantian views, utilitarianism, and more recent views such as virtue ethics and a form of philosophical feminism called ethics of care.


Whereas the fields of medicine, biology, science, and healthcare focus on research and application, bioethics deals with the ethical issues which arise in these fields. 


Below, we’ll go over some of the crucial matters and controversies which bioethics oversees.



Matters in Bioethics


Clinical Ethics


Clinical ethicists grapple with issues in healthcare practices. This may include identifying and analyzing issues, or resolving disputes and conflicts between parties, such as healthcare practitioners, patients, surrogates, etc. 


Frequently, parties may disagree or be uncertain about the ethical course of action. For example, a patient may refuse a beneficial treatment or request a non-beneficial treatment against the practitioner’s judgment. A clinical ethicist may help clarify the ethical questions involved, encourage honest communication between parties, and find ethical solutions to the issue. 


Clinical ethicists may also work on larger issues by making solutions available to institutions and policy-makers.



Health Policy


Health policy concerns the legislation of healthcare within the government and the wider healthcare system. Questions in this area concern access to healthcare, healthcare costs and quality, incentives and support for medical research, etc. 


In health policy, the dilemma of justice within policies and equality for all to access healthcare is a major part of the conversation. Bioethicists may ask whether it is just to refuse medical help to an individual who cannot afford to pay, and whether it is just to expect the more fortunate and healthy to pay for others’ medical help. These health policy decisions are weighed by bioethicists and are a wider democratic debate.





In this medically and scientifically advanced age, genetics is a major ethical issue in bioethics. Many ethical questions arise with the technological ability to detect genetic risks and alter genetics, such as reproductive decision-making or disease prevention. 


Bioethicists weigh the ethical factors of genetic disease prevention and treatment, especially when they are within reproductive processes or genetic alterations. A bioethicist may weigh the risks of parents having children when a genetic disease is detected, or whether parental liberties should override the social implications for future children. 


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Neuroethics concern the field of neuroscience. Much like genetics above, the advanced technological abilities to map, diagnose, and alter the brain and nervous system comes with advanced ethical questions as well. 


Neuroethicists may deal with issues concerning neuroenhancement drugs, memory techniques, clinical use of neuroimaging, and policies involving neurotechnologies.



Clinical Neuroethics


Clinical neuroethics take the combined issues of clinical ethics and neuroethics and deals with questions about drugs, treatments, and other interventions that affect neurological and mental states. 


For example, technologies such as ventilators and imaging tools bring up crucial questions about whether an individual is considered alive or dead if blood and oxygen are still flowing, or when the brain is still firing signals.



Precision Medicine


Precision medicine, such as expensive drugs for cancer which target the genetic source of the disease, comes with some ethical ambiguities. These very expensive drugs can be risky for patients, as they typically cost around $130,000 to $470,000, and may not be very effective. Some may only gain the patient a few more months at a very high cost. 


The question bioethics may ask is whether these drugs should be suggested if the high cost outweighs the small benefit. Another question is whether it is ethical to deny the drug to patients when such little benefit is predicted.



Reproductive Ethics


As mentioned in genetic ethics, reproductive technologies have brought up a host of ethical questions. Reproductive ethics engage in many social and legal controversies. The field is concerned with assisted reproduction (such as IVF), surrogacy, genetic manipulation, issues in restricting fertility (such as contraceptives and sterilizations), and abortions. 


A reproductive ethicist may engage in questions such as the ethical factors of manipulating DNA in embryos to prevent genetic diseases or even choose specific traits such as eye color or intelligence. 



Research Ethics


Research ethics concern ethical challenges and questions in the field of clinical research, animal or human testing, and other forms of research. Many questions concern the regulations around scientific and clinical research. 


For example, if data is “unidentifiable” (in other words, not traced back to its source) then regulations do not require consent in order to use it. However, with DNA testing, it is becoming less possible to maintain anonymity of the subjects. 



Shared Decision-Making


Shared decision-making is a concept which was formed under the principle that patients have the right to autonomy in their medical care. Shared decision-making means that practitioners communicate information, clinical judgments, and options to patients so that patients can weigh the course of action alongside their own values and preferences. This is in stark contrast to forms of medical care in which the practitioners decide on a course of action alone.


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Social Determinants of Health


Social determinants of health recognize that genetics are not the only factor in health, but rather, that social and physical environments, as well as access to resources and other tools, affect an individual’s health and recovery. Bioethics call attention to these disparities in order to improve effective practitioner-patient relationships, and to find social solutions to issues in health care.



What Does Bioethics Accomplish?


Bioethics asks many crucial and difficult questions in the fields of distributive justice, medical care, healthcare, social sciences, research sciences, and more. But while bioethicists explore deep philosophical questions, they are also movers and shakers in their own right.


Bioethics is a growing component in public policy, legislation, and other practical implications. For example, centers such as The Center for Practical Bioethics, or projects such as The Coalition to Transform Advance Care and others work toward practical implications of bioethics. 


As the field evolves, it becomes more prominent in the areas of legislation, literature, and vocational specialities such as clinical ethical consultation. Academia is also embracing bioethics as an important field, with Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees in bioethics. 





The bioethics definition is a field of theoretical and practical study which takes an ethical approach to fields of medicine and health science. The field is growing more relevant as technology advances and brings up important ethical questions. Bioethicists may grapple with questions of reproduction, practitioner-patient relations, genetics, or even matters of life and death.