Scopes of the field and a brief history of bioethics
by Arthur L. Caplan, Glenn McGee
Medical Ethics or Bioethics, study of moral issues in the fields of medical treatment and research. The term is also sometimes used more generally to describe ethical issues in the life sciences and the distribution of scarce medical resources. The professional fields that deal with ethical issues in medicine include medicine, nursing, law, sociology, philosophy, and theology, though today medical ethics is also recognized as its own discipline.
Medical ethics traces its roots to several early codes of ethics such as the ancient Greek Hippocratic Oath, which required physicians above all to “do no harm;” professional codes of ethics such as the one written by English physician Thomas Percival in the 18th century that provided a foundation for the first code of ethics established in 1846 by the founders of the American Medical Association; and the Nuremberg Code for research ethics on human subjects that was established during the war crime trials at the close of World War II (1939-1945) in response to the gross abuses in human experimentation performed in Nazi Germany. The advent of new medical and reproductive technologies after the 1950s further complicated the moral and societal issues of medical research and practice. This article discusses several of the most prominent issues in medical ethics.