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

Bioethics could be used as a "bridge" between the life sciences and classical ethics.

What is Bioethics?

The concept of bioethics refers to the ethics of life Or the biology. Of Greek origin, the termbios means "life" whileethos it 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 a discipline intellectual 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 the Sciences of life -in all its scopes- and classical ethics.

Principles of bioethics

Bioethics works in favor of well-being, seeking to protect without damaging.

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

  • Respect for autonomy. This principle establishes that the possibility that the persons to choose and decide for themselves. This implies that there should be no limitations or interference towards the person at the time of make a decision.
  • Charity. This principle establishes an equation between cost and profit. This goes beyond harming third parties: it implies working in favor of well-being, protecting without harming.
  • No maleficence. This principle refers to promoting the good, as well as the prohibition of damaging or carrying out malicious actions. Basically, you cannot harm or harm third parties to save a life.
  • Justice. The last principle implies that there is equity between three key questions: costs, benefits and risks. At the same time, it is synonymous of an equitable distribution between responsibilities, material goods and rights.

History of bioethics

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 who is awarded the Hippocratic Oath, that is, a mandatory guide that guides doctors in their work.

On the other hand, scholasticism advanced in a theology moral that addresses the issues of natural laws, as well as the preservation of life. From the seventeenth century, books and texts began to be recorded that jointly addressed the moral and to 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 It is divided into two major stages: before Potter and after Potter.

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

In short, the Nuremberg Code is a set of principles that regulate experimentation with human beings and was the result of the Nuremberg Trials that took place after the end of the World War II.

What is bioethics for?

Bioethics regulates 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 they have to do with the regulation of scientific advances. Bioethics establishes that not everything that is scientifically possible is necessarily ethically admissible.

The four fields to consider are the following:

  • Regulation of advances in genetics. This includes everything that is linked to birth, including the cloning.
  • Regulation of those advances that put the environment and planet Earth at risk. In this case, you must have control of all those practices that endanger the habitats natural, the air or the Water, as well as limiting everything that leads to global warming.
  • Regulation of 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 and even the care given to people who are in intensive care.

Examples of bioethics

Blood transfusion is a debated topic where 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.
  • Termination of pregnancy (abortion).
  • The use of animals to carry out experiments and tests of new medicines or vaccines.
  • Organ donation.
  • The life span o quality of life.
  • Euthanasia.

Bioethics in philosophy

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

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

  • Mainly bioethical. It is governed by the four principles mentioned above.
  • Universalist bioethics. Consider that, when making a decision in which there is a dilemma, you should choose the option choose the majority. Part of the idea that consensus is the best form of authority.
  • Personalistic bioethics. It considers that the center of the debate is in each person and in 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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