Friday, August 14, 2009

What the hell is Bioethics?

A lot of people in my life have been very confused as to what I am doing now, what bioethics is, and why I took this research job. In an attempt to offer folks some more information I thought I would write a blog entry.

First, my undergraduate degree and coursework focused on medical sociology. I would describe medical sociology as the sociological study of of medicine-as a social institution, its knowledge, practice and effects on socieity. Medical sociologists investigate the social organization and production of health and illness, sociology of the health professions, and science and technology studies that relate to medicine and health care. They are also interested in lay experiences, or how everyday people expereince health and illness.

Bioethics is simply the study of ethics applied to the medical field. It often focuses on ethical controversies brought about by advances in biology and medicine. Bioethicists are concerned with the ethical questions that arise in the relationships among life sciences, biotechnology, medicine, politics, law, philosophy, and theology.

The field of bioethics addresses a broad swath of human inquiry, ranging from debates over the boundaries of life (eg. abortion, euthanasia) to the allocation of scarce health care resources (eg. organ donation, health care rationing) to the right to turn down medical care for religious or cultural reasons.

One of my main interests in the field of bioethics is human experimentation-protection of vulnerable subjects, informed consent, community participation in research, etc. The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research was initially established in 1974 to identify the basic ethical principles that should underlie the conduct of biomedical and behavioral research involving human subjects. However, the fundamental principles announced in the Belmont Report (1979)--namely, autonomy, beneficence and justice--have influenced the thinking of bioethicists across a wide range of issues.

Currently I am working with numerous faculty members at the University of Michigan’s Bioethics Program on a wide variety of research including:

-Physician discipline
-Healthcare rationing
-patient/provider communication and trust
-Community input in setting research agendas and distribution of funds
-End of life decisions

Anyway, I hope this answers some of your questions! Feel free to check out the department website

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