The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics offers programs and resources on ethical issues in end-of-life care, vulnerable patient populations, medically ineffective interventions (futility), culturally competent care, biotechnology, pandemics, and other areas of bioethics.
Overview of Bioethics
Commentary on Bioethics
What is Bioethics?
By Margaret McLean, director of Bioethics
Bioethics involves a reflective, careful examination of issues that arise in biology and medicine, such as end-of-life decision making, DIY biology, biohacking, genetic testing, and the new possibilities of gene editing. It spans a large range of activities that may occur in garages or in laboratories.
A certain set of issues are raised in all of these contexts. The first one is safety. In genetics, for example, this is the information that makes you you, so it raises safety questions about storage of that data and privacy and just thinking about what ID theft would mean if in fact your genetic code was stolen.
The second set of questions deals with meaning. We all become vulnerable when we're ill, and what we're finding in the hospital context is that more and more people who come into the hospital are unable to make their own decisions. The question that it raises for us is, who decides for patients such as these? If we cannot find a surrogate decision-maker, if they have no advance directive, if they have no family or friends that we can locate, then who makes those decisions between surgery and medicine or about withdrawal of treatment?
One of the main issues that we deal with is around the end of life. We are a death-avoiding, death-defying society, and it comes as a surprise to most of us that in fact we do have to make decisions about the end of life. We need to be able to think clearly and talk about the kinds of interventions we want and don't want, and to be able to create a context in which we die as authentically as we've lived.
This article was adapted from the video What Is Bioethics?