Medical Ethics and Bioethics

Medical ethics involves the norms (rules and values) and moral principles that apply to the practice of medicine, medical research and the associated healthcare fields.

When we think of ethics as it relates to medicine we most likely think of the Hippocratic Oath which is the oath whereby doctors swear to conduct themselves ethically in the practice of medicine. This oath is also taken in principle by some of the other healthcare practitioners.

In the study of the history of medicine you will find lots of examples of ethics being promoted in medicine. In addition to the Hippocratic Oath (believed to have been written by Hippocrates), there are numerous teachings on ethics in medicine dating from medieval times.

Religion in Ethics

Religion has also played a very influential role regarding ethics in the practice of medicine, with early Catholic, Islamic, and Jewish teachings on the subject of ethics in medicine. Scholastic thinkers and practising doctors also contributed to the practice of ethics in medicine, with the first book on ethics in medicine, "Conduct of a Physician" having been written by Ishaq bin Ali Rahawi, a Muslim physician.

During the 18th and 19th centuries Thomas Percival (1740-1804) an English physician and author coined the term "medical ethics". Later his writings on ethics in medicine formed the basis of the American Medical Association's first code of ethics in 1847.

Modern Medical Ethics

Modern medical ethics guidelines have evolved in response to the abuses associated with, malpractices, medical research, advances in medical pharmaceuticals, and medical publications.

  • The Nuremburg trials, following World War Two, highlighted the abuses of medical research.
  • Greed for profits have led some physicians and pharmaceutical companies to adopt unethical practices in order to profit.
  • Some medical research publications were often found to be inaccurate, fraudulent, plagiarized, or fabricated.


The abuses in medical research (Nuremburg trials) and technological advances in medicine created controversy in some areas of biology and medicine. As medical science and medical technology increased they raised questions surrounding the religious, legal, and political values in society.

Bioethics grew in importance, with its focus mainly being on the role of human beings in biomedical research experiments. Since bioethics deals with controversial topics that often involve religion and biomedicine you will find that all the major religions would have their beliefs and viewpoints on the subject of bioethics.

Also, all the major countries and regions have official organizations overseeing and regulating bioethics and ethics in medicine in their jurisdictions. Here are some of the major medical/bioethics organizations around the world:



United Kingdom



New Zealand


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