What is bioethics? Theoretical bases and objectives

Throughout the history of mankind, human rights have been violated many times, there have been negative and positive repercussions on the scientific advancement of biomedicine in human life, and the advancement of industrial society has been prioritized. To the detriment of the damage that could be generated to ecosystems. In response, as awareness, a new field of general ethics was created a few decades ago: bioethics.

As we will see, defining bioethics is not an easy task. There are a large number of guidelines that make up bioethics, which nourish it for the analysis and resolution of the problems that justified its appearance.

Definition of bioethics

Bioethics is a branch of ethics, responsible for providing and examining the most appropriate principles of conduct for human beings in relation to life (human, animal and plant life). Among the many definitions that exist of bioethics, it can be said that it is the systematic study of human behavior in the field of life sciences and health care, examined in the light of values ​​and principles. moral.

We must clarify that unlike medical ethics, bioethics is not limited to the medical environment, but addresses multiple issues (for example, the environment and animal rights).

In short, it is an ethical reflection on the moral problems of the contemporary plural society in which we are immersed. It focuses primarily on registered health professions, such as clinical psychology.

Some of the most well-known topics in applied bioethics are:

  • Abortion and the condition of the embryo
  • euthanasia
  • Genetics and human cloning
  • Research and clinical trials
  • Environment and animals (author Peter Singer stands out in this area)
  • The relationship between doctor and patient
  • Organ donation
  • Pain treatment

Brief historical development

It is a relatively young discipline because it has less than half a century of history.. In addition, it has become a compulsory field of study in research and medicine, and over the past 30 years its body of knowledge has expanded, becoming one of the most important branches.

The originator of the term is somewhat controversial: some defend the German theologian and philosopher Fritz Jahr (1927), who used the term Bio-Ethik in an article on ethics towards plants and animals. Other authors include the biochemist oncologist Potter, who in 1970 used the term bioethics in an article, and a year later published a text titled “Bioethics: A Bridge to the Future”.

But if there is one thing we should emphasize in the history of bioethics, it is the Belmont Report (1978). It arose out of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects from Biomedical and Behavioral Research in the United States, following the ravages of the well-known Tuskegee experiment (on untreated syphilis in African Americans). This text sets out the principles or criteria to guide research with humans in biomedicine. Today, the Belmont report is still considered a reference text for researchers.

Major principles of bioethics

Below, we will explain the four main principles of bioethics, proposed by Beauchamp and Childress (1979):

1. Autonomy

Autonomy reflects a person’s ability to make decisions about himself without outside influence, his privacy and self-determination. This principle may not apply when there are situations in which the person cannot be 100% autonomous or have reduced autonomy. (for example, vegetative state).

The maximum expression of this principle would be the informed consent of the patient. It is a patient’s right and a duty of the professional who takes care of him. In this sense, the preferences and values ​​of the patient must be recognized and respected. In psychology, this principle also applies and the informed consent of patients, whether adults or children (through their parents or legal guardians) must always be obtained.

2. Charity

It is the professional’s obligation and duty to act for the benefit of the patient or others. It aims to promote the legitimate interests of the patient and eliminate their prejudices as much as possible. It would be like ‘doing your best for the patient’.

The problem that arises from this principle is that sometimes the benefit of the patient is favored but without taking into account his opinion (for example, the doctor has training and knowledge that the patient does not have, so that the doctor decides freely what is best for the person.). In other words, in these cases, the opinion of the patient or the patient is discarded due to his lack of knowledge.

The principle of charity depends on that of autonomyIt would be like doing the good that the patient consents or asks for.

3. Justice

This principle aims for equality and reduces discrimination based on ideology, society, culture, economy, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.. It is recognized that everyone has a right to the benefits of medicine, or psychology, for example. It seeks to provide all patients with the same quality, the same care and the same services in all procedures.

In psychology, for example, no discrimination or prejudice of any kind is accepted.

This principle is applied qualitatively differently in different countries. For example, in the United States, medical care relies on insurance purchased from private companies, so there may be discrimination on economic grounds. In Spain, health care is free and universal, based on a principle of necessity.

4. No malfeasance

This principle is based on refraining from performing acts that are intentionally harmful to the person. In other words, do not harm the other in an unjustifiable or unnecessary way. In some disciplines, this principle can be interpreted with nuances, for example:

In medicine, medical actions are sometimes detrimental to the patient, but the goal is to obtain his well-being (for example, a surgical intervention). In psychology, asking the patient to be exposed systematically and gradually to situations generating anxiety, fear, anger, etc., can be harmful or painful, but the ultimate goal is his psychological well-being and overcome his problems.

Other considerations in this principle exist: the professional must commit to having a training based on solid and scientific knowledge, Must constantly update their knowledge (based on evidence and not pseudoscience) to practice professionally and must seek new treatments or therapies in order to improve themselves and provide the best care to their patients

As stipulated in the code of ethics of psychologists, “without prejudice to the legitimate diversity of theories, schools and methods, the psychologist will not use insufficiently contrasted means or procedures, within the limits of current scientific knowledge. new techniques or instruments, not yet tested, will allow its customers to make it known before using “their professional competence”.

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