Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Bioethics

The Center 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

Margaret R. McLean, director of Bioethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, discusses ethics in genetics, health care, astrobiology, and end of life issues.

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?

    Health Care Ethics Internship

    This unique program places students in local hospitals and other health care facilities, where they experience day-to-day ethical issues and dilemmas.

    Honzel Fellowship in Health Care Ethics

    The Fellow serves as a peer mentor to students in the Health Care Ethics Internship and develops an ethics project with particular relevance to students and alumni.

    Consultation Services

    Ethics Center staff provide ethics consultation to local hospitals, offering counsel on complex decision making to health care professionals, patients, and families and serving on regional bioethics committees.