Bioethics Today — A Manifesto
The field of bioethics is in the right place at the right time. The right place is at the intersection of medical practice, health care delivery, health care policy, and development of clinical guidelines and standards of care. The right place includes bioengineering, nanotechnology, pharmaceutical R&D, and environmental conservation and sustainability. Bioethics concerns range far afield, encompassing reproductive medicine, regenerative medicine, stem cell research, and man–machine interfaces.
Bioethics investigates and explores the underpinnings, ramifications, and implications of democracy, human rights, freedom of the individual, the existence of free will, and the origins and implementations of moral and ethical systems.
The right time for bioethics is right now. The present moment. The great philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, "Future and past are only in the concept. . . . The present alone is the form of all life, but it is also life's sure possession which can never be torn from it."1
In short and in effect, bioethics focuses on being-in-the-world. That is a pretty big mandate. The practical result is that there is unlimited opportunity for innovation and development of outside-the-box solutions to real-world problems. For example, the health care system is desperate for impactful and visionary leaders. In the United States we have several dozen, possibly more. Yet the actual need is for hundreds, even thousands, of such leaders, operating in government, industry, higher education, health care delivery complexes, and non-profit policy centers.
Bioethical conundrums abound, including
- The six-figure-plus annual costs of many cancer medicines
- The ongoing lack of access to and availability of HIV medication in Africa and Southeast Asia.
- Access and availability of health care services, worldwide
- The moral status of the embryo and the ethics of embryonic stem cell research
- End-of-life decision making
- Prenatal genetic testing and counseling. Reproductive freedom, including IVF, same-sex parenting, and surrogacy
The world of bioethics is as big and broad, as deep and rich, as extensive and wide-ranging as the world we live in. The problems and challenges of humans (as the presumptive stewards of the planet) are the problems and challenges of bioethics. The historical four principles of bioethics—autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice—provide a firm foundation for this next generation of work to be done. These principles represent a launching pad for a new phase of endeavor. A phase in which bioethics can provide insight, guidance, and action steps to facilitate the thriving of all species, inclusive of our entire ecosphere.
1Schopenhauer A: The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 1, p 278. New York, Dover Publications, 1969
The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.