What is bioethics
Bioethics and its role in environmental protection
Bioethics, which promotes a set of principles to guide the interaction between the human race and living things — both fellow human beings and other forms of life — must now more than ever be linked to environmental protection. Because only the cohesion of citizens' moral and ethical values with respect and care for the environment will guarantee the mitigation of climate change and the survival of future generations.
Who should be vaccinated first in the middle of a pandemic? This highly topical medical issue is among the questions studied by bioethics, but so are others related to biology, chemistry, anthropology, etc. In turn, bioethics also deals with issues related to the environment, searching for a better relationship between human beings and their environment.
Bioethics: Origin, definition and importance
The American biochemist Van Rensselaer Potter coined the term bioethics in 1970 to describe a new philosophy that sought to integrate biology, ecology, medicine and human values. In the years that followed, a conception developed in the United States that restricted bioethics to the field of medicine. In response to this reductionism, Potter took up his original conception and expanded it to define a bioethics that also embraced the relationship between the biosphere and the human population.
Bioethics finds application in many disciplines and human issues. From debates regarding the boundaries of life, such as abortion or euthanasia, to surrogate motherhood, the allocation of organs for transplantation or the right to refuse medical care on religious grounds. The field of bioethics also extends to the applications of biotechnology, including genetic engineering, which affects humans, animals and plants, or to the impact of air, soil and water pollution on living beings.
Its importance is such that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has hosted the International Bioethics Committee (IBC) since 1993. This body, which is made up of 36 independent experts, monitors advances in the life sciences and their applications to ensure respect for human dignity and freedom. In addition, bioethics committees have gradually emerged at national level.
The principles of bioethics
In 1978, the Belmont Report, created by a commission of the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, established the basic principles of research on human subjects. In the same year, philosopher Tom Beauchamp and theologian James Franklin Childress published Principles of Biomedical Ethics, a seminal work in which they described the four fundamental principles of bioethics:
Principle of autonomy
These are the rights of an individual to self-determination and the respect for their ability to make informed decisions about personal matters in freedom.
Principle of beneficence
This refers to actions that promote the welfare of others. In the medical context this means looking after the interests of patients and their families.
Principle of non-maleficence
It is embodied in the phrase "first, do no harm" — from the Latin, primum non nocere —. Not harming the patient, which is part of the Hippocratic Oath, is considered to be of the highest importance.
Principle of justice
This relates to the allocation of scarce health resources and the decision on who receives treatment, as well as the appropriate selection of research participants.
Environmental bioethics is the part of environmental philosophy that expands the traditional boundaries of bioethics from being concerned only with human beings to include the rights of all other living beings in our ethical and moral values. It, thus, incorporates questions such as what respect for nature means or whether we can use it and protect it at the same time.
Therefore, environmental bioethics plays a very important role in sustainability and in mitigating the impact of human activity on the environment. Issues ranging from biodiversity loss to deforestation, the greenhouse effect, ocean pollution and the overexploitation of resources, among others.
Human's responsibility for the environment
In the face of the challenge posed by climate change, which threatens the planet and future generations, it is more necessary than ever for individuals, international organisations, national governments and businesses to take responsibility for protecting the environment and commit to sustainability. To this end, measures are being taken all over the world:
- The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): a United Nations (UN) action plan for people and the planet.
- Climate change policies and negotiations: such as the Paris Agreement, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent global warming.
- Environmental education: instilling respect and care for nature from a very early age is fundamental to safeguarding the planet.
- Conservationism: the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other organisations are working to save many species from extinction.