About bioethics

The word "bioethics" first began to be used in the early 1970s. While traditional medical ethics is focused on the doctor's duty and responsibility to an individual patient, bioethics is essentially utilitarian.

Bioethics combines ethics, philosophy and social commentary and centres around looking at the potential impact life-related issues may have on society. It examines the morality of human choices and actions that typically occur in medical practice, though it extends to other areas where people's life and health are involved, eg. research ethics, genetics, cloning and some environmental policies.

The traditional Judeo-Christian understanding of the sacredness of the life of each individual human being is rapidly being discounted by many bio-ethicists, in favour of an attitude that seems to consider the greater good of society as a whole as being the critical criteria.

Who is to decide what constitutes the 'greater good' is another matter entirely and one that is constantly debated by bio-ethicists themselves as well as politicians and religious leaders around the world.

Scientifically speaking, an individual human life begins at conception and does not end until natural death. At the moment of conception sperm and ovum cease to exist as individual entities, and a new being with its own genetic code comes into existence. All that is need for its development is food, water, air, and an environment conducive to its survival.

The controversy among bio-ethicists is not about when human life begins, but when that new life becomes a human person. One of the major players in the field of Bioethics is the controversial Australian Professor, Peter Singer. Peter Singer is the DeCamp Professor in the politically influential Center for Human Values at Princeton University. Singer's critics point out that he is an extremely intelligent man who "makes "palatable", ideas that could become morally unacceptable public policy."

Bioethics issues cover determining when life begins, selecting the sex of children, regenerating organs, cloning human beings, assisted fertilization, and stem cell use.