What’s bioethics? (24.12.2015)
Consider what the practice of medicine was like in the 1970s, along with clinical research, healthcare, patients’ involvement (or lack of it!) in decisions involving their own health, public health, etc. There was some ground-breaking research being done – including the “discovery that created modern biotechnology”(6) – and phenomenal advances in public health.
Just for fun, I’ve listed a few examples from the 1970s at the bottom of the post; I love this kind of timeline information.
Why did I ask you to think about the 1970s? Because that’s when the term “bioethics” came to be. It’s a relatively new field, and has always had to evolve quickly to stay abreast of medical innovations, new technologies in healthcare, societal shifts towards the involvement of patients in their medical decision-making, and other changes.
Bioethics already includes many areas of specialization, and the number of these is likely to increase as long as innovations continue to change the way caregivers, governmental health agencies, healthcare professionals, hospital administrators, patients, researchers, and others interact with each other and with healthcare technologies.
It’s a multidisciplinary field, with graduate programs often accepting students from very different educational backgrounds: law, medicine, philosophy, theology, etc. That said, bioethics tends to be viewed as being a branch of philosophy called applied ethics (also known in Europe as practical ethics).
Specialists in bioethics help individuals with their decision-making in healthcare settings (clinical bioethics), inform governmental decisions and policies, protect research participants or volunteers, and work – frequently behind the scenes – in many areas touching people’s lives on a daily basis.
There are a number of reliable websites providing more information; these are a good start if you’d like to learn more about bioethics in general:
Some examples of medical and scientific breakthroughs in the 1970s:
1970: US Congress bans cigarette advertising on television and radio and requires stronger health warning on cigarettes (3)
1971: Discovery of RNA priming of DNA synthesis (2)
1972: Discovery of a new class of immune response genes, suggesting for the first time that people may have predictable susceptibility to certain diseases (2)
1973: Herbert Boyer & Stanley N. Cohen develop recombinant DNA technology, showing that genetically engineered DNA molecules can be cloned in foreign cells (6)
1974: Canadian Dr. Jean H. Dussault develops a simple and effective test for detecting hypothyroidism – the most common and preventable cause of mental retardation in newborns
1975: Discovery of link between exercise and increased “good” (HDL) cholesterol levels (2)
1976: The Montréal Children’s Hospital is the first hospital in Canada endowed with a research program in community pediatrics (5)
1977: Dr. Henry Friesen of Canada receives the Gairdner Foundation International Award for his discovery of a hormone called prolactin, which causes infertility in humans (4)
1978: Medical Research Council of Canada (MRC) publishes Guidelines on Research Involving Human Subjects (4)
1979: CDC sends disease detectives to investigate two large outbreaks of an unknown deadly hemorrhagic fever in Zaire and Sudan, a disease later known as Ebola (1)