Advances in medical technology and biology have made many things possible, like cloning, that weren't possible 10, 50 or 100 years ago. The disadvantage to these advancements is that some can be controversial causing ethical and moral concerns. The study of how advances in biology and medicine impact relationships is referred to as bioethics.
Another more in-depth explanation of bioethics is "the study of the ethical and moral implications of new biological discoveries and biomedical advances, as in the fields of genetic engineering and drug research." For the layman, the easiest way to remember the bioethics definition is to describe it as "the study of the ethical problems arising from scientific advances, especially in biology and medicine."
History of Bioethics
The concern with moral issues in the fields of medical research and treatment is not something new to the 20th century. It has its roots as far as the time of the ancient Greeks when the Hippocratic Oath was first created. The oath required, and still requires, doctors to adhere to the professional code of "do no harm" above all else. The first official code of medical ethics was written in 1846 by the founders of the American Medical Association. It was based on professional codes of ethic written by British physician Thomas Percival in the 18th century. After the war crime trials of Nazis at the end of the World War II, the Nuremberg Code for research ethics on human subjects was established. It was created in response to the terrible human experimentations performed in Nazi Germany.
Bioethical Issues and Bioethics Topics
Bioethical issues deal with any aspect of human biology including, but not exclusively, issues related to pregnancy, childbirth and human reproduction. Euthanasia, cloning and DNA banks are examples of medical ethics that many bioethics articles have been written about.
Advancement in reproductive medicine has, according to many bioethics journals, caused some of the biggest concerns about where a person's right begins and ends as far as control over their bodies and the embryos that they can create.
Up until the 1960s there weren't very many medical ethical concerns about pregnancy and childbirth. But with the development of birth control came moral concerns about its use, especially for anyone whose religions forbade them to use artificial birth control. Controversy continued with the legalization of abortion in the 1970s and many arguments still continue on the meaning and origin of personhood and where the rights of the unborn child and mother start and end. The development of the RU- 486 drug in the 1980s by the French inflamed the already heated debate about abortion by allowing women to induce an abortion very early in pregnancy without invasive procedures.
Reproductive bioethics is also an issue with many fertility-enhancing technologies. With the introduction of artificial insemination, a woman could become pregnant without sexual intercourse. Artificial insemination also allows for impregnation with someone else's egg or sperm. This brought up questions on how sperm and egg donors should be recruited, if they should be paid for their donations and if they are entitled to parental rights or if they were required to fulfill parental responsibilities.
The development of in vitro fertilization (IVF) has also raised significant ethical issues. Questions about the safety of mother and baby were raised due to the necessity of implanting more than one embryo for a higher chance of success. This increased the chance of multiple births and multiple births generally carry higher health risks to the mother and babies. As a solution, some doctors can abort one or more of the embryos to improve survival rates of the remaining ones. This brings up ethical issues related to abortion and when human life starts. IVF has also raised concerns about what happens to the fertilized eggs that aren't implanted. How long should they be kept alive and frozen? Is it murder to let the embryos die?