Bioethical Issues: Bioethics refers to the study and evaluation of the decisions done in scientific research and medicine to touch upon the health and lives of people, as well as the society and environment. Bioethics is a portmanteau of the words “bio” and “ethics“.
Because of that, this discipline is concerned about determining the rightness or wrongness of the discoveries and developed technologies in science, as well as incorporating human rights and values to health and life.
The following topics are the most common scientific topics and advancements that have gotten the attention of bioethics supporters, the media, and the general public.
Table of Contents
Top Bioethical Issues
Abortion refers to the premature ending of a pregnancy which occurred in itself (known as a miscarriage or spontaneous abortion) or by force through surgery or taking medications. The topic of abortion raises intensely personal issues about many topics, such as morals, religion, sexuality, autonomy, politics, and science and medicine.
- During the abortion, the central question is focused on whether or not unborn children (called fetuses) have moral status and significance. Aside from that, questions regarding parental responsibilities and obligations and the issue of personhood arise.
- Although abortion has long been debated in almost all issues in bioethics, there is still no moral consensus achieved.
The next bioethical issue in our list is Surrogacy. Surrogacy assists the reproduction of parents who are incapable of doing so (e.g., same-sex couples, single men, single women, or man/wife). Most of the time, surrogacy is carried out by women (known as gestational women or gestational surrogate) who carries the child in their womb.
- The bioethical concern here is the confusion in the identity of the child, whether or not his biological parents are considered his “true” parents.
3. Whole Genome Diagnosis
Advancements in technology are now able to allow researchers and physicians to view and have access to the whole genome of a newborn. Such screening is used to determine the individual’s chances of acquiring and developing certain diseases.
- However, this process seems to draw criticisms primarily because of the lack of consent from the individual (a.k.a the newborn).
Cloning refers to the process of creating a new population of genetically-similar and identical naturally occurring organisms. The usual targets for cloning include bacteria, plants, and animals.
- In particular, the bioethical issues regarding cloning focus on humans becoming the subject of such experiments.
- The moral status of the cloned organism, created mainly for destruction and as a source of organs, has become the primary concern in bioethics. Issues include health risks to both mother and child, damage to the clone, meager success rates even if there are a lot of trials and samples, psychological effects to the clone, and commodification and commercialization of life itself. Refer to pros and cons of cloning here.
5. Stem Cells
In biology, stems cells are a type of undifferentiated (not mature and undeveloped) cells that can divide and differentiate into specialized cells.
- The bioethical issue concerning stem cells is pretty much like the issues with cloning.
- Respect for life per se requires that people show respect to all of its forms. Supporters of bioethics believe that stem cell research violates this notion because the source organism (usually an embryo) is destroyed during the process.
- While stem cell research can alleviate human diseases and suffering, creating stem cell lines may lead to the uncontrolled commodification of cells and life.
In philosophy, eugenics refers to the social movement that believes on the possibility of creating the best human society and race by promoting the reproduction of populations with positive or desirable traits while controlling and prohibiting the reproduction of populations with negative or undesirable traits.
- Eugenics became very popular when Adolf Hitler ordered the killing of disabled and medically unfit people as well as the murdering of the Jews.
- Because of the advancement of science and technology, many people fear that another era where the principle of genetics will prevail. Ethical issues about eugenics concern the moral principle associated with racial equality and the subjective belief in perfection.
7. Genetically Modified Organisms
GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are organisms that have been transplanted with a gene or a DNA sequence of interest from another organism. This process is similar to eugenics, wherein an organism with the best traits is produced.
- However, unlike eugenics, the process of creating GMOs requires work on the genetic level and is usually done in crops and animals.
- While the production, use, and creation of genetically modified organisms are new, with their long-term impacts on health still yet to be seen, bioethical issues about it are the same with cloning, stem cell research, and eugenics.
As alluded to earlier, several technological advancements have paved the way for the improvement in health care.
- Aside from that, issues regarding the allocation of funds, decision-maker and recipient of the benefit, cost-efficiency, and measurement of success are ethical concerns. Aside from that, many people believe that health care may only promote health inequality.
9. Aged Care
A portion of the world’s population is composed of elderly citizens. Naturally, they become the priority for funding and public policy through aged care establishments and other accommodation services.
- However, similar to health care, these policies raise concerns about who should provide support for the elderly and what should be their standards of living.
- In addition to that, questions about balance, freedom, and safety are also being asked.
Literally meaning “good death“, euthanasia is the process of intending to end the life an individual to stop their pain and suffering. Euthanasia is also loosely called mercy-killing, assisted suicide, or doctor-assisted suicide.
- While some people believe that euthanasia is just a matter of ending life painlessly, many people (especially those who support bioethics) believe otherwise.
- In many countries, euthanasia is illegal, regardless of the circumstances.
- Euthanasia challenges the belief about the sanctity and equality of all life forms. Euthanasia is believed to corrupt the practice of medicine and undermine the value of suicide prevention.
11. Organ Donation
Despite being almost common, donating or receiving an organ raises ethical issues. Similar to cloning and stem cell research, organ donation have raised numerous moral, societal, and ethical concerns about the use of living people as donors.
- The first bioethical issue on organ donation is a big shortage of organs for those who need them. There are thousands of people on the waiting list to receive organ transplants, either living or deceased. Check out United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) for the updated waiting list, statistics around how many people are being added to the list per minute, how many people are getting the transplant and how many people die every day during the transplant surgeries & more.
- The next bioethical issue on this matter is equal access to organs (aka distributive justice theory) to those who need them by the length of waiting time and by their age. According to this theory, the patients who wait for transplants could not move up the waiting list if their poor lifestyle caused damage to organs (like smoking or substance abuse) over patients who have no control over their diseases.
- Another biggest ethical issue is that as there is a big demand for organ transplants, there is a fear of illegal organ stealing from livings (human trafficking) without their consent to create organ farming to sell body parts for high prices.
12. Head Transplant
Absurd as it may sound, experiments about transplanting an organism’s head to another are being done. In fact, during the 1970s, the first-ever head transplant in monkeys occurred successfully (the recipient only lived for ten days).
- While such application on humans is still being studied, serious health and bioethical concerns are associated with it. Questions like the brain’s reaction to the new body, memory, and individual identity, are of concern.
Cryonics refers the scientific method of freezing a newly-dead individual to reanimate or bring him to life at a later period. Because this process involves reversing the process of death, several bioethical issues were raised against it.
- One of the main problems with cryonics is immortality. While some believe immortality to be beneficial, bioethics supporters believe this idea should not prevail, given that the planet is already under a crisis of unsustainable population and limited resources.
14. Bone Conduction
Bone conduction technology involves the replacement of an individual’s ear bones to transducers that can transmit sounds.
- Despite being promising, the problem with this technology is that it can transform an individual into a billboard with countless advertisements. In this case, the consent of the individual is not a concern.
15. Artificial Exoskeleton
Last but not least bioethical issue is the development of an artificial skeleton for the elderly to improve their strength and help them move. This artificial skeleton can give them the ability to walk, run, and bend like someone younger than them.
- The bioethical concern with this is the possible abuse that the elderly may experience when they are forced to work longer before and even after retirement age.
In conclusion, we can infer that even in the best-case situations, some of the aforementioned scientific methods and medical practices are a dangerous and problematic ethical minefield.