• Home   /  
  • Archive by category "1"

Bioethics Definition Religion Essay


Bioethics traffics in matters moral. As such, bioethics frequently bumps up against religion, offering an ideal arena to examine how the sacred and the secular encounter each other in modern medicine. In this essay I consider two places where bioethics and religion intersect: 1) the response of bioethics to the universal problem of suffering, and 2) the professional proselytizing or “missionizing work” that bioethics does in order to make a place for itself among the professions of the life sciences.

Keywords: Religion and Bioethics, Suffering, Culture and Bioethics

I hate, I despise your religious festivals;

your assemblies are a stench to me.

Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them.

Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,

I will have no regard for them.

Away with the noise of your songs!

I will not listen to the music of your harps.

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Amos 5: 21–24

I have a small poster on the door of my office that offers a concise illustration of the relationship between science and the humanities. It shows a scientist, clad in white lab coat, watching as a very large egg cracks open. His arms are raised above his head in celebration. The text reads: “Science can tell you how to clone a tyrannosaurus rex”. Immediately below is a second image: the same scientist running from the now full-grown, fearsome dinosaur. Here the text reads: “Humanities can tell you why this may be a bad idea”. Perhaps a bit simplistic, but it captures the tension between the sacred and the secular that we find in the modern hospital. The myriad technologies that populate the clinic – all of which are capable of altering the natural processes of birth, illness, and death – create questions about their proper application, questions that cannot be answered by the secular and rational logic that built these technologies.

Where do we go for guidance about how to use the technologies of medicine? That depends, in large part, on who the “we” is. If the “we” includes those who agree on a set of moral principles and on the source of those principles, the answer is relatively simple. There may well be disagreement on how to apply those agreed-upon principles, but at a minimum the decision about where to begin has been made.

But if the “we” encompasses a collection of folks whose moralities begin in different places and generate a variety of moral principles, agreeing on the right thing to do will be no easy task. Sorting right from wrong in this situation forces us to notice the relationship between cosmology and morality, to ponder the nature of the moral authority – if any – we are willing to submit to. As societies move from religious to scientific cosmologies, moral authority moves from the sacred to the rational. But this move is never complete. Logical and empirical explanations of why something is moral or immoral cannot fully encompass questions of meaning that are part of ethical decision-making. For example, medical-scientific evidence about the viability of a 20-week-old fetus gives no counsel about whether that fetus is a human being or merely a proto-human, a “product of conception”.

Enter bioethics. Bioethics was born in a context characterized by moral pluralism and shifting ideas about the nature of moral authority; it was, and is, an effort to develop a set of principles and a method for moral decision-making acceptable to all, regardless of one’s religion or ideology. Given its mission to bring a secular morality to medicine and the life sciences -- where ethical questions about the boundaries and meaning of life abound -- bioethics finds itself constantly bumping up against religion. These encounters are challenging because they highlight an essential tension in the precepts of bioethics. Foundational to the field is “respect for persons”, a precept that demands that religious beliefs not be dismissed as merely collections of irrational myths. At the same time, the bioethical precept of universalism makes it impossible to include religion as a serious element in moral decision-making. As a consequence, bioethics compartmentalizes religion. Yes, religion has some limited moral legitimacy, appropriate for certain groups and individuals, but it has no claim on broader moral theory. Thus religion is ghettoized: we have, for example, Catholic bioethics, Jewish bioethics, and Islamic bioethics.

This unique tension makes bioethics an ideal arena to explore how the sacred and the secular encounter each other in modern medicine and medical research. I am particularly interested in two of the many places where bioethics brushes up against religion. The first has to do with the sociology of bioethical knowledge: how bioethics approaches and responds to the universal problem of suffering. The second is “professional proselytizing”: the “missionizing work” that bioethics does in order to make a place for itself among the professions of the life sciences. In both cases I consider how the secular stance of bioethics limits its ability to fully respond to the challenging existential and moral questions that emerge in medicine and medical research.1

Secular Bioethics and the Response to Suffering

While interest in the ethics of medicine is as old as the healing arts themselves, bioethics is, as noted above, a relatively recent field of inquiry and practice. There are varied accounts of the conditions that generated the move from medical ethics to bioethics, but common to all is concern with the unnecessary suffering of research subjects and patients. These histories reference the harmful experiments conducted on humans without their consent during World War II (notably by the Germans, but also by the Japanese and the Americans), the use of poor people and minorities in medical research,2,3 and the tough choices that had to be made when kidney dialysis was new and available only to a few.4

It is, in fact, fair to say that bioethics was born because of this deep concern with human suffering. Remarkably, in spite of this foundational disquiet, the field has spent very little intellectual energy on responses to suffering. As the secular voice of moral decision making, bioethics has ceded inquiries on the nature and meaning of suffering to religion. Anthropologist Arthur Kleinman comments:

One is surprised to find so many professional ethical volumes in which [the word suffering] does not appear as an entry in the index. Ethical systems that leave the problem of suffering (and related concepts of endurance and courage) to particular theological traditions cannot adequately engage the human core of illness and care.5

Two features of bioethics are resposible for this bioethical ignorance of suffering. First, as John Evans points out in his book Playing God, the field has moved from “thick” to “thin” bioethics.6 In the early days of the field, bioethicists were concerned with “thick”, substantive questions about the meaning of human life and the effect of new technologies on what it means to be human. The search for answers to these questions drew on theological and philosophical insights. As the field developed, the questions that interested bioethicists became much “thinner” and more formal. No longer was there a concern with ends, the interest shifted to means – that is, how to design guidelines and regulations that would protect patients and research subjects. Bioethicists became consultants, educators, and guides seeking bureaucratic solutions for bioethical problems. This new “thin” approach provides no space to explore the meaning of suffering. Contemporary bioethics has nothing to say when those who suffer need help in making sense of their experience.

A second reason that bioethics gave up on suffering is that the field has become closely associated with medicine. Kleinman observes:

Like biomedicine, bioethics begins with professional definitions of pathology. The experience of illness is made over, through the application of ethical abstractions into a contextless philosophical construct that is every bit as professionally centered and divorced from patients’ suffering as is the biomedical construction of disease pathology.7

He goes on to say:

… [the] standard version of bioethics shares yet another biomedical bias, the rejection of teleology. Biomedicine banishes the concepts of purpose and ultimate meaning to religion; yet most patients and practitioners struggle to make sense of illness with respect to great cultural codes that offer coherent interpretations of experience.8

By giving up on meaning and teleology, bioethics misses what we might call ‘the paradox of suffering’. Cassell has defined this paradox well:

…suffering also reveals to the sufferer a greater depth of human experience and meaning. After the experience of suffering, the person is led to a richer understanding of the meaning of being human, a greater concern for the suffering of others, and away from the superficialities that too often characterize daily existence.9

What does bioethics lose when it ignores the paradox of suffering? In his book, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, American novelist and essayist, Walker Percy, offers an answer. In one of several anecdotes, he describes an ordinary morning when a businessman goes out to retrieve the morning paper. He is suffering from anxiety and concerned about a presentation he must make later in the day, and in a bizzare twist, an insane young man drives by and shoots him with a .22 caliber pistol. The wound is not fatal, but as this businessman waits for the ambulance, he notices how well the dogwood he planted 10 years ago is doing; in the hospital he jokes with the doctors, quoting Churchill who said: “Nothing makes a man feel better than to be shot without effect.” Percy then asks his readers, “Is this occurrence:

  1. Unrelievedly bad news? It is not good to get shot. One could die of it.

  2. Putatively bad news but secretly good? The incident somehow dispenses you. The single irrational act of a madman changes the entire state of your life in an instant – from that of an anxious worried businessman in danger of losing a big account, to that of an innocent victim, not only not guilty, but also unfailed…”10

Percy uses this story to reveal one of the possibilities of suffering: Suffering takes us out of our ordinary lives and makes us aware of things going on about us that do not normally get noticed.

Given its thin and non-teleological approach to affairs medical, bioethics is unable to provide this type of insight to those who suffer. Bioethics consultations are limited to resolving questions about “morally appropriate” care. Efforts to make sense of the illness experience are necessarily excluded.

Looking more deeply into the paradox of suffering, we discover that the experience opens up three distinct possibilities. First, suffering creates community. It is in suffering that we discover what we share with our fellow humans. Neiderauer makes this observation:

In human suffering the believer sees the grounds of our common humanity, recognizing that it is through suffering, above all, that human beings are stirred to the love of one another… 11

In his book, The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen picks up on this theme. He points out that being wounded allows the healer – be that a minister, a physician, or a bioethicist – to show true hospitality. He says there is more to being a wounded healer than just spiritual exhibitionism, or the sharing of superficial personal pains. He sees in the wounds that the healer brings with him or her “a constant willingness to see one’s own pain and suffering as rising from the depths of the human condition which we all share.” In this way, suffering frees us from ourselves, from our illusions of immortality and illusions of wholeness. When we are freed from these illusions and from ourselves we can truly welcome the “other” and be authentically hospitable.12

Second, suffering also can lead to resistance. The sufferer is separated from the world that has pushed this person in directions that run counter to true human need. Kleinman explains:

Take, for example, consumer society. I can’t tell you how many patients I’ve sat with who had terrible cancers or other life-threatening problems who’ve said to me, “You know, one of the things about this disease is it’s really made me rethink how I live my life.” That’s a kind of protest, a resistance to the way the world is that comes out of that encounter.13

James Hillman agrees. He believes that suffering creates the possibility of revolution. He says, “The real revolution in our society begins with a person who can stand with his own depression, because then you say, ‘No!’ to the whole manic situation of modern society – over-consumption, over-activity, travel.”14

Third, suffering can be regarded as a quest. Arthur Frank, who has written much about suffering from the point of view of sociology, finds three ways that people approach suffering.15 One is to stay put in their suffering, which he defines as chaos -- “living among the broken integrity of the person.” A second approach is to go backward, that is, to reconsider your life, thinking about events that you now regret, thinking about ways to repair those regrets, to engage in restitution and undo the wrongs you have done. The third response to suffering is to go forward and to see suffering as a quest, opening up new possibilities in life, taking people to new places where they had not been before.

This point of view about suffering is well illustrated in Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The story begins as a family is preparing for a trip to Florida. Things are typically hectic, complicated by the fact that “grandmother”, the classic mother-in-law, does not want to go. In an effort to get her way, she picks up the paper and reads aloud about the “Misfit”, who has just escaped from the Federal Pen and is “headed toward Florida”. The Misfit is a terrible man who kills without mercy -- a one-man machine of pointless suffering. If you know the work of O’Connor, devout Catholic from the American South, you know that mention of the trip to Florida and an escaped criminal guarantees a fateful meeting.

The family finally gets out the door and the grandmother continues to nag, insisting they take a detour to see an old plantation house with a fascinating ‘secret panel’. Dad was not inclined, but the children took up the cause, screaming that they wanted to see the secret panel. Being a good father, he gives in and heads off down the dirt road that the grandmother is sure will take them to the house with the secret panel.

You can guess the rest. The family cat – Pitty Sing – escapes from her basket and startles the dad who rolls the car into a ditch. As they get out of the car, checking themselves for injury, who should appear from the woods? The details are classic O’Connor. The Misfit and his accomplices dispatch dad, mom, and the kids, leaving the grandmother to plead for her life:

The misfit’s voice seemed about to crack and the grandmother’s head cleared for an instant. She saw the man’s face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest. Then he put his gun down on the ground and took off his glasses and began to clean them.

One of his accomplices comments: “She sure was a talker, wasn’t she?” The misfit replies: “She would of been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”16 Suffering can be seen as the experience that is there to shoot us every minute of our lives.

Cassell summarizes this for us:

Both on a religious and a secular basis, it is not unusual for suffering persons to believe that their suffering is a form of selfless service to others. Through the acquisition of meaning in this fashion, the suffering is alleviated.17

The commitment of bioethics to be the secular approach to moral decision-making has weakened the ability of the field to respond to (inevitable) suffering and to fully appreciate the ethical aspects of illness and its treatment. What would bioethics look like if it was not cocooned in its secular space? Integration with religion would allow bioethics to move from the realm of the extraordinary to the ordinary, to consider the inevitable, everyday, ordinary problems of living and to see the need to see the need to respond to those problems as part of the moral responsibility of the medical community. In overlooking the universality of suffering, bioethics misses the opportunity to engage in a deeper understanding of who we are as humans – an understanding essential to moral foundations of medicine. Exploring suffering can tell us something about the nature of persons, the relationship between persons and their bodies, the goals of medicine, the relationship between persons and their communities, and the place of the spirit in the lives of individuals.

Spreading the Word: the “Good News” of Bioethics

As a secular, rational endeavor, bioethics resists the religious. But, interestingly, in its efforts to establish its place in medicine and the life sciences, bioethics calls on proselytizing methods commonly associated with religious missionizing. Like Christian missionaries who left Europe and North America to witness to peoples in other lands, bioethicists are now bringing the gospel – the “good news” – to those in low and middle income countries.

The Christian gospel is the New Testament story of salvation found in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gospel of bioethics is “good clinical practice”, the Belmont Report,18 and the Declaration of Helsinki.19 Both missionaries and bioethicists may object to this comparison. Missionaries will point out that they are devoted to a spiritual task, not to the secular work of developing regulations and guidelines for the practice of medicine and medical research. For their part, bioethicists will likely resent being described with a term associated—in their minds, at least—with those who destroyed local cultures and paved the way for colonial abuses. These objections are, of course, based on stereotypes. Not all missionaries are tools of imperialistic nations, and most do more than care for the souls of those they minister to. And while it is true that bioethicists help to create and write regulations, their ultimate goal is to protect patients and research subjects from harm and exploitation.

Nevertheless, the metaphor of missionary work is useful for understanding how bioethics has insinuated itself in the developing world, making visible interesting similarities in the work of missionaries and bioethicists. For instance, it is clear that bioethicists have followed—consciously or unconsciously—one important example from the missionary movement. Like missionaries before them, bioethicists are shifting from “imported” to “indigenous” evangelization.20 Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century, missionaries faced resistance from their host countries. In some places, most notably China, missionaries were expelled; in other places, missionaries were increasingly regarded as colonialists. Mission organizations responded to this turn of events with the notion of “indigenization.” No longer would missionaries from the West be exported to other countries. Instead, citizens from those countries would be brought to the West and trained to situate the missionary message in the local culture. This meant translating the gospel into local languages, using local organizational forms in the creation of churches and adapting local customs to the teaching of the gospel. Over time, indigenization came to be called “contextualization”, and it was described as an effort to protect, and be relevant in, local culture.

Although they do not use the term, those in the West who wish to bring the benefit of bioethics to the developing world have seen the value of indigenization. Indigenization is a solution to what Solomon describes as the “export problem” of Western bioethics—a problem that is unavoidable when bioethics, a creation of Western culture, collides with the systems of ethics found in local, non-Western cultures.21 Pursuing the indigenization solution, bioethicists from the developing world are currently being trained in the United States (via the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health22), Europe (via the Erasmus Mundus Masters program in bioethics23), and the United Kingdom (via The Wellcome Trust24). Having learned the language and logic of Western bioethics, trainees return to their home countries to spread the “gospel”.

What do we know about the “success” of the indigenization of bioethics? Research addressing and/or evaluating these specific training programs has been scant, and the descriptions and evaluations that do exist tend to be programmatic (i.e., “Did we meet the goals of the funder?”) rather than critical and reflective (“Have our bioethics programs helped local norms and values to be realized?”).

From Noble Intent to Unwitting Harm

For the most part, the desire to spread the gospel, Christian or bioethical, begins with noble intent—the goal is to bring the benefits of developments in one part of the world to another part of the world where those benefits are not experienced or understood. Those benefits may be eschatological or existential, but in either case, the motivation is to proffer aid and share lessons learned. But, as we have seen in some of the transactions between missionaries/bioethicists and the people they serve, noble intent is not sufficient to bring good results. An imbalance in power between would-be helpers and those to be helped creates a one-way flow of influence from “missionaries” to “locals” that not only diminishes the possibility of mutual enrichment, but also creates the possibility of unwitting harm.

An evaluation of a research ethics training workshop at a Nigerian university implicitly illustrates the problem of one-way flow of influence. The authors begin their report by noting that “training in research ethics affords scientists, especially those from developing countries, the opportunity to contribute to ever increasing international debates on ethical issues. . .” Indeed, “international debates on ethical issues” should be informed by insights of those in the developing world. But just a few pages later, we learn what the program actually accomplished: “Post-training improvements were found in participants’ knowledge of the principles of research, the application of these principles, the international regulations, and the operations of an IRB”.25 Measured by its own evaluation metric, this program was focused on teaching Nigerians the wisdom of Western bioethics (“principles, the international regulations, and the operations of an IRB”), not on seeking wisdom from the traditions of Nigeria.

Arguing from a natural law perspective, Boyle points out:

…fragmentation of the pursuits of health around the world implies that no authority within any health care or biomedical community such as a medical association or expert group [can] qualify as having global bioethical authority. . . [U]ntil the world is much more integrated and unified, there will be no properly bioethical legislature or Supreme Court for the whole world.26

We know that religious, legal, psychological, historical, and ethical differences have an impact on bioethical views both within and between countries27 but this seemingly obvious fact gets lost in many ethics training programs in developing countries. Benatar, a bioethicist from South Africa, chides those from the West who would “improve” the ethics of countries in the developing world:

What should be avoided is the previous colonial mentality of wanting to study and improve others while oblivious of the need to address the more sophisticated and covert faults of Western researchers’ own societies. The desire to improve the behavior of others should also be associated with awareness that one’s own exemplary moral behavior might be more effective in promoting ethical behavior and respect for human rights than […] attempts to change the cultural attitudes of others while neglecting our own adverse cultural attitudes.28

The Inside View of Indigenization: Bioethicists-in-Training Speak

Interviews with 21 trainees at a European-based bioethics program, described elsewhere,29 shed light on several important things about efforts to indigenize bioethics. Here I briefly review three of these: (1) problems with the sources of, and models of, ethical reasoning; (2) a lack of fit between the ethical issues taught in classes and the ethical problems in the students’ home countries; and (3) the motivation(s) for establishing Western bioethics in the developing world.

Sources and Models of Ethical Reasoning

A majority of the students in this training program came from parts of the world where Christianity was not the dominant religion. And yet, in Europe, reasoning about ethical issues is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition and Christian scholarship of the West. Students were aware of this and felt a degree of disconnect with their own histories. A student from China pointed out:

“…if I want to accept all of the theologies and, too, the methods for the bioethics for Chinese people, it’s a little bit difficult …in China, we have different religions…and very few people believe in God…they are not Christian…so they have no sort of knowledge about Christian history, about Jesus, so you know, a lot of bioethics, methods, and theories came from Jesus…”

Students admitted that much of their own exposure to ethics and bioethics, before their arrival in Europe, came from the West. This is to be expected, given that the overwhelming majority of published knowledge about ethics—in books, reference works, and on the Internet—comes from Europe and North America.

One student pointed out that training in the Western way of bioethics is “interesting,” but the model of ethical reasoning that is almost universally taught—principlism—is not an easy fit in most developing countries.

Based on the well-known four principles—autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice—principlism is easily taught and applied to a wide variety of ethical dilemmas, at least in societies where these principles fit seamlessly with cultural values. It can be argued that the four principles are sufficiently abstract allowing them to float above, and yet account for, the peculiarities of culture. This line of argument suggests that regardless of our cultural differences, we all can agree that nonmaleficence is a good thing. But, of course, we must hasten to add that what you and I call “harm” may vary. And the same can be said of autonomy: in the United States, autonomy is conceived in a radically individualist manner, but in other cultures we can adjust the idea to incorporate more familial and communal ideas of autonomy. In the atomistic United States, a free and independent individual should (must?) determine her care, whereas in more communal societies, autonomous decisions occur in consultation with, or by decision of, recognized authorities.

Ultimately, this argument is specious. Pushed too far in this direction the principles become meaningless. Can we really speak of autonomy if others make a treatment decision for an adult woman? Bioethics students from the developing world saw several problems with the principlist approach they were learning. Not surprisingly, the principle of autonomy was identified as most problematic. Many of the students saw a disjuncture between their cultural values and the individualism implicit in autonomy. A student from a Muslim country noted: “…in [Islam]…justice [is more important] than autonomy…Islam said first your neighborhood…not first yourself.”

Another discussed a Buddhist view:

“…[an author I am reading] argues that in Buddhism you have no concept of autonomy. …She said that the central concept is compassion, and it emphasized paternalism. So for myself, this is what I think for myself, compassionate paternalism, it’s not that bad.”

From India:

“[In rural India] their idea of autonomy is totally different, like they’re not, even for signing our hospital admission sheet, it is not a patient or immediate person, it is…the family [that] was signing for that patient, even for admission, even for taking out of the hospital, it’s not the patient who is signing…we are not thinking the autonomy of the person, we are thinking about the collective autonomy of the whole family.”

Ethical Issues Here and There

Training in bioethics typically involves review of ethical theories (described above) and in-depth discussion of critical ethical issues. These discussions offer the opportunity to apply ethical theory to real-life situations, and allow students to practice the move from the theoretical to the applied. What are the ethical issues covered in coursework of students from the developing world? Here are two course descriptions from the curriculum of the students who were interviewed:

  • Ethics of Reproductive Technologies: The aim of this course is to familiarize participants with an ethical approach of assisted reproduction. The goal is not only to essentially inform the participants about the latest developments and challenges in this area of medicine, but also to help them develop a critical and ethical clarification of this subject. This course works from an interdisciplinary (theological, legal, psychological, medical) perspective.

  • Human Genetics and Medical Technology: The course aims to educate participants on a range of ethical subjects that currently are the focus of debate in genetics. Teaching will focus on the moral problems generated by the Human Genome Project, as well as the ethical boundaries in the clinical application of new knowledge in, for example, genetic counseling, genetic screening, gene therapy, and cloning. The implications of scientific progress for the image of the human being, as well as for modern culture, will also be studied.

This curriculum is not atypical. Review of the course requirements for those in the Johns Hopkins Fogarty African Bioethics Training Program reveals a few more relevant-sounding titles—for example, there is a “Short Course in International Research Ethics”—but course content is equally skewed toward Western ideas. The description of the International Research Ethics course reads: “Introduce trainees to the major principles and theories of Western bioethics, to U.S. and international guidelines that govern human participants research”.30 An evaluation of the program suggests it has been empowering to students but, significantly, also indicates that the training is still too Western-centric, lacking in curricula more appropriate to developing countries.31

Students in the European program noticed this lack of fit. At one point, students from the program approached the faculty about making the coursework more relevant to conditions in their home countries. As one student explains, they were rebuffed:

“… would you like to know what was a surprising thing for me? That when we were talking about adjusting this program to the need not just to talk about the [European] situation, but a little bit wider, and people from India were highly interested to talk about HIV…the reaction was, ‘but we are a European course.’”

Students also felt that the assigned readings were not aligned with what they would need to know when they returned home. One student talked about the need to learn the basics, even if she did not know “who Levinas is:”

“… for me, it is sometimes too much, too many terms, not the right context, and I will prefer to debate, to talk, to share something like that, because it is the way I learn better, rather than just to have a philosopher who is using a very specific language.”

Motivations: Why Teach Western Bioethics to Students from the Developing World?

Given the lack of fit between the content of training programs in bioethics and the bioethical situation and needs of countries in the developing world, it is reasonable to ask “Why do these programs exist?” The answer to that question is not simple. In our search for an answer, we look to both what we learned from students and to campaigns by for-profit organizations marketing their clinical trial services. In her explanation of the difference between medical ethics and bioethics, a student from India reveals an important motivation for the export of Western bioethics (emphasis added):

“Medical ethics was something like the ethics related to clinical care and the doctor, how we should be with patients and all that. That was what we were taught in medical school … But now because research is coming in a big way, especially with a lot of international collaborations, the U.S. ethos of bioethics is coming in a big way.”

This student understands the current situation. As Petryna has pointed out, the number of clinical trials in the developing world has grown markedly over the past 15 years, as pharmaceutical companies search for “naïve bodies” (bodies that are not under the influence of several drugs, as is the case in many Western nations), and more favorable ethical environments.32

Students are aware of the need for better bioethics in the developing world. In their comments on the coming of the pharmaceutical industry to their countries, they demonstrate a mix of motives for learning the ways of Western bioethics: to protect the subjects of research but also to encourage economic development. This student from China was typical:

“No, just now, [we have] no formal [research ethics] committees [in China], no, so it’s a big problem. I think I like to come here and learn more knowledge about this field, I want to do some work in this field… at least I can help to organize the bioethical review communities in my universities, for our country…I know doctors, they do some clinical trials, they have no approval…they didn’t do the informed consent…they didn’t have the review…[from] the research review committees, so it’s a big problem, they do some trials, it’s not good.”

She goes on to discuss the director’s enthusiasm for having European-trained bioethicists in China:

“…my director, director of our institute, he’s very good person and he has a lot of ideas for the future development, and when he learned [that] I got [a] scholarship, and of the European community, and I can come to European countries to learn bioethics, he [was] very excited. He said, ‘ahh it’s good, it’s good for you and also for our institutions. I know in Europe the bioethics have a very good…they pay a lot of attention in this field and they have a lot of knowledge in this field and I think you can learn a lot of things there.’”

Similarly, a student from an Eastern European country noted:

“…we have several IRBs registered, just because let’s say our genetics center, probably 7, 8, 10 years ago, became interested to work with some French organization and they, one of the requirements was: ‘where was your IRB?’ So these people started to work on that…”


Can the essential ideas and goals of a secular bioethics be realized in culturally plural societies? What happens when we are good without God? In its effort to avoid parochialism, bioethics avoids exploring the meaning of illness, suffering, and death. In its effort to protect the subjects of medicine and medical research wherever they may be found, bioethics engages in professional proselytizing, preaching the secular gospel of ethical principles that transcend culture. The good news offered by religions is replaced by a secular good news of rules and regulations.

Bioethicists can succeed in their mission without becoming evangelists if they look more closely at missionary history. McGinnis points this out when he compares the indigenization movement in Christian missions with a similar trend in efforts to promote human rights:

…an essential ingredient in the missionary strategy of evangelization is conspicuously absent in contemporary programs of development, democratization, or peace-building. In particular, the extensive efforts devoted by Protestant missionaries to the translation of their Biblical message into local languages and symbolic repertoires bear little resemblance to efforts to transplant Western ideals of universal human rights, or the institutional templates of democratic governance, first developed in the United States and Western Europe.33

The effort to appreciate religious beliefs and local cultural ideals is more than just a sign of respect for the “clients” of bioethics. It also promises new ways of approaching the issues secular bioethicists confront. In their discussion of the value of a “bioethics from below,” Rennie and Mupenda suggest that “bioethics research and scholarship [revolves] around issues that, while fascinating and important, currently affect only a small minority of the world’s population” and argue for a move away from “a ‘90/10’ gap, i.e., a situation where 90 % of discussions on bioethics in the literature and the popular media may revolve around issues affecting 10 % of the world’s population.” They conclude with this interesting comment on the value of two-way communication between Western bioethics and bioethics in the developing world:

…greater attention to ethical issues arising from biomedical research, clinical practice and public health interventions ‘far away’ might have a positive effect on bioethics ‘closer to home,’ potentially expanding the horizons of the field and enhancing its social relevance.34

If they are willing to “thicken” their thinking about ethical problems, secular bioethicists can learn a great deal from the ethical traditions embedded in religions and found in the countries of the developing world. Like Christian missionaries who discovered new things about God by listening to those they hoped to convert, bioethicists will learn new things about ethics by listening to religions and to those in the developing world. Reflecting on the possibility of a global bioethics, Engelhardt explains:

… global bioethics can at best provide a thin moral framework, a space within which individual and moral communities can peaceably pursue divergent understandings of morality and bioethics within limited democracies and within a global market. Such a global bioethics cannot provide a content-full understanding of the right, the good, virtue, or human flourishing. Content will have to be found within particular moral communities and the moralities and bioethics they sustain.35

Bioethics has been unwilling to enrich its practice by integrating ideas drawn from religious traditions and from cultures different from the West. As we have seen, there are historical and professional reasons for the move from thick to thin bioethics, but with this move bioethics misses the opportunity to enhance its own moral practices and the moral practice of those who have not given into secularization.

I opened this article with a passage from the Old Testament book of the prophet Amos. When it encounters religious traditions, secular bioethics would do well to keep in mind the voice of Amos, reminding them of the many ways the pursuit of justice is hampered by clinging too tightly to one’s traditions and professional self interests. A more complex and thoroughgoing rapprochement between secular and religious approaches to moral decision-making is overdue.

Further Reading

  • Ajuwon A, Kass N. Outcome of a research ethics training workshop among clinicians and scientists in a Nigerian university. BMC Medical Ethics. 2008;9:1. doi: 10.1186/1472-6939-9-1.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]
  • Alexander S. 1962. “They Decide Who Lives, Who Dies: Medical miracle puts moral burden on small committee,” Life 102–125.
  • Bayertz K. Struggling for consensus and living without it: The construction of a common European bioethics. In: Tristram Engelhardt H Jr, editor. Global Bioethics: The Collapse of Consensus. Salem: M Scrivener Press; 2006. pp. 207–237.
  • Benatar S. Achieving gold standards in ethics and human rights in medical practice. PLoS Medicine. 2005;2(8) doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0020260.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]
  • Boyle J. The bioethics of global biomedicine: A natural law reflection. In: Tristram Engelhardt H Jr, editor. Global Bioethics: The Collapse of Consensus. Salem: M & M Scrivener Press; 2006. pp. 300–334.
  • Cassell E. The nature of suffering and the goals of medicine. Oxford: New York; 2004.
  • Cassell E. Pain and Suffering” In: Post SG, editor. Encyclopedia of Bioethics. 3. New York: Macmillan; 1995. pp. 1961–1969.
  • De Vries R. The Music, Art and Ethics of Suffering. In: Hogue B, Sugiyama A, editors. Making Sense of Suffering: Theory, Practice, Representation. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press; 2011. pp. 69–76.
  • De Vries R, Rott L. Bioethics as Missionary Work: The Export of Western Ethics to Developing Countries. In: Myser C, editor. Bioethics Around the Globe. New York: Oxford University Press; 2011.
  • De Vries R, Rott, Leslie M, Paruchuri Y. Normative environments of international science. In: Anderson MS, Steneck NH, editors. International Research Collaborations: Much to be Gained, Many Ways to Get in Trouble. New York: Routledge; 2011. pp. 105–120.
  • Engelhardt TH., Jr . The search for a global morality: Bioethics, the culture wars, and moral diversity. In: Tristram Engelhardt H Jr, editor. Global Bioethics: The Collapse of Consensus. Salem: M & M Scrivener Press; 2006. pp. 18–49.
  • Evans J. Playing God? Human Genetic Engineering and the Rationalization of Public Bioethical Debate. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 2001. [PubMed]
  • Frank A. The wounded storyteller. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 1995.
  • Hillman J. InterViews. New York: Harper; 1983.
  • Hyder A, Harrison R, Kass N, Maman S. A case study of research ethics capacity development in Africa. Academic Medicine. 2007;82(7):675–683. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3180674484.[PubMed][Cross Ref]
  • Kleinman, A. 2006. A conversation with Arthur Kleinman. Hedgehog Review, 8(3).
  • Kleinman A. Writing at the Margin. Berkeley: University of California Press; 1997.
  • Kleinman A. Anthropology of Bioethics” In: Reich W, editor. Encyclopedia of Bioethics. New York: Macmillan; 1995.
  • Marshall P, Koenig B. Accounting for culture in a globalized bioethics. Journal of Law Medicine & Ethics. 2004;32(2):252–266. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-720X.2004.tb00472.x.[PubMed][Cross Ref]
  • McGinnis MD. From self-reliant churches to self-governing communities: comparing the indigenization of Christianity and democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. Cambridge Review of International Affairs. 2007;20(3):401–416. doi: 10.1080/09557570701574089.[Cross Ref]
  • Niederauer, G. 2007. Flannery O’Connor’s Vision Of Faith, Church And Modern Consciousness. San Francisco, Lane Center Lecture Series, . http://www.usfca.edu/uploadedFiles/Destinations/Institutes_and_Centers/Lane/Events/documents/NiederauerOConnorLecture.pdf
  • Nouwen H. The Wounded Healer. Garden City: Doubleday; 1979.
  • O’Connor F. A Good Man is Hard to Find. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich; 1983.
  • Percy W. Lost in the Cosmos. New York: Picador; 1983.
  • Petryna A. Ethical variability: Drug development and globalizing clinical trials. American Ethnologist. 2005;32(2):183–197. doi: 10.1525/ae.2005.32.2.183.[Cross Ref]
  • Rennie S, Mupenda B. Living apart together: reflections on bioethics, global inequality and social justice. Philosophy Ethics and Humanities in Medicine. 2008;3:25. doi: 10.1186/1747-5341-3-25.[PMC free article][PubMed][Cross Ref]
  • Reverby S. Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and Its Legacy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press; 2009.
  • Skloot R. The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Crown Publishers; 2010.
  • Solomon D. Domestic disarray and imperial ambition: Contemporary applied ethics and the prospects for global bioethics. In: Tristram Engelhardt H Jr, editor. Global Bioethics: The Collapse of Consensus () Salem: M & M Scrivener Press; 2006. pp. 335–361.

Ethics involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior.[1] A central aspect of ethics is "the good life", the life worth living or life that is simply satisfying, which is held by many philosophers to be more important than traditional moral conduct.[2]

Most religions have an ethical component, often derived from purported supernatural revelation or guidance. Some assert that religion is necessary to live ethically. Blackburn states that there are those who "would say that we can only flourish under the umbrella of a strong social order, cemented by common adherence to a particular religious tradition".[3]

Buddhist ethics[edit]

Main article: Buddhist ethics

Ethics in Buddhism are traditionally based on the enlightened perspective of the Buddha, or other enlightened beings who followed him. Moral instructions are included in Buddhist scriptures or handed down through tradition. Most scholars of Buddhist ethics thus rely on the examination of Buddhist scriptures, and the use of anthropological evidence from traditional Buddhist societies, to justify claims about the nature of Buddhist ethics.[4]

According to traditional Buddhism, the foundation of Buddhist ethics for laypeople is the Pancasila: no killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, or intoxicants. In becoming a Buddhist, or affirming one's commitment to Buddhism, a layperson is encouraged to vow to abstain from these negative actions. Buddhist monks and nuns take hundreds more such vows (see vinaya).[citation needed]

The sole reliance on traditional formulae or practices, however, can be questioned by Western Buddhists whose main concern is the practical solution of complex moral problems in the modern world. To find a justifiable approach to such problems it may be necessary not just to appeal to the precepts or the vinaya, but to use more basic Buddhist teachings (such as the Middle Way) to aid interpretation of the precepts and find more basic justifications for their usefulness relevant to all human experience. This approach avoids basing Buddhist ethics solely on faith in the Buddha's enlightenment or Buddhist tradition, and may allow more universal non-Buddhist access to the insights offered by Buddhist ethics.[5]

The Buddha provided some basic guidelines for acceptable behavior that are part of the Noble Eightfold Path. The initial percept is non-injury or non-violence to all living creatures from the lowest insect to humans. This precept defines a non-violent attitude toward every living thing. The Buddhist practice of this does not extend to the extremes exhibited by Jainism, but from both the Buddhist and Jain perspectives, non-violence suggests an intimate involvement with, and relationship to, all living things.[6]

Theravada monk Bhikkhu Bodhi has observed:

"Buddhist ethics, as formulated in the five precepts, is sometimes charged with being entirely negative. ... [I]t has to be pointed out that the five precepts, or even the longer codes of precepts promulgated by the Buddha, do not exhaust the full range of Buddhist ethics. The precepts are only the most rudimentary code of moral training, but the Buddha also proposes other ethical codes inculcating definite positive virtues. The Mangala Sutta, for example, commends reverence, humility, contentment, gratitude, patience, generosity, etc. Other discourses prescribe numerous family, social, and political duties establishing the well being of society. And behind all these duties lie the four attitudes called the "immeasurables" — loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity."[7]

Christian ethics[edit]

Main article: Christian ethics

See also: Sermon on the Mount, The New Commandment, and Ministry of Jesus

Christian ethics in general has tended to stress the need for love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness because of sin. With divine assistance, the Christian is called to become increasingly virtuous in both thought and deed, see also the Evangelical counsels. Conversely, the Christian is also called to abstain from vice.[citation needed]

Christian ethical principles are based on the teachings within the Bible. They begin with the notion of inherent sinfulness, which requires essential atonement. Sin is estrangement from God which is the result of not doing God's will. God's will can be summed up by the precept: "Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself", commonly called the Great Commandment. Christian ethics are founded upon the concept of grace which transforms a person's life and enable's one to choose and act righteously.[citation needed] As sin is both individual and social, so is grace applied to both the individual and society. Christian ethics has a teleological aspect—all ethical behavior is oriented towards a vision of the Kingdom of God—a righteous society where all live in peace and harmony with God and nature, as envisioned in the Book of Isaiah. Specific ethical behaviors originate in the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments, and are enriched by teachings in the Psalms and morals contained in historical accounts, see also Biblical law in Christianity.

Christian ethics is not substantially different from Jewish ethics, except in the exhortation to love one's enemy.[citation needed] Perhaps the greatest contribution of Christian ethics is this command to love one's enemies.[citation needed] It has been argued (see Chet Meyer's Binding the Strong Man, and John Yoder's The Politics of Jesus) that Jesus was waging a non-violent campaign against the Roman oppressors and many of his sayings relate to this campaign--turn the other cheek, go the second mile, etc. Understanding these commands as part of a larger campaign makes it impossible to interpret Christian ethics as an individual ethic.[citation needed] It is both an individual and a social ethic concerned with life here on earth.

Other tenets include maintaining personal integrity and the absence of hypocrisy, as well as honesty and loyalty, mercy and forgiveness, rejection of materialism and the desire for wealth and power, and teaching others in your life through personal joy, happiness and Godly devotion.[citation needed]

There are several different schema of vice and virtue. Aquinas adopted the four cardinal virtues of Aristotle (justice, courage, temperance and prudence), and added to them the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity (from St.Paul, 1 Corinthians 13). Other schema include the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven virtues. For more see Christian philosophy and Biblical law in Christianity.

Confucian ethics[edit]

Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism emphasize the maintenance and propriety of relationships as the most important consideration in ethics. To be ethical is to do what one's relationships require. Notably, though, what you owe to another person is inversely proportional to their distance from you. In other words, you owe your parents everything, but you are not in any way obligated towards strangers. This can be seen as a recognition of the fact that it is impossible to love the entire world equally and simultaneously. This is called relational ethics, or situational ethics. The Confucian system differs very strongly from Kantian ethics in that there are rarely laws or principles which can be said to be true absolutely or universally.

This is not to say that there has never been any consideration given to universalist ethics. In fact, in Zhou Dynasty China, the Confucians' main opponents, the followers of Mozi argued for universal love (Chinese: 兼爱; pinyin: jiān ài). The Confucian view eventually held sway, however, and continues to dominate many aspects of Chinese thought. Many have argued, for example, that Mao Zedong was more Confucian than Communist. Confucianism, especially of the type argued for by Mencius (Chinese: 孟子; pinyin: mèng zĭ), argued that the ideal ruler is the one who (as Confucius put it) "acts like the North Star, staying in place while the other stars orbit around it". In other words, the ideal ruler does not go out and force the people to become good, but instead leads by example. The ideal ruler fosters harmony rather than laws.

Confucius stresses honesty above all. His concepts of lĭ (Chinese: 理), yì (Chinese: 義), and rén (Chinese: 仁) can be seen as deeper expressions of honesty (Chinese: 誠; pinyin: chéng; literally: "sincerity") and fidelity (Chinese: 孝; pinyin: xiào) to the ones to whom one owes one's existence (parents) and survival (one's neighbours, colleagues, inferiors in rank). He codified traditional practice and actually changed the meaning of the prior concepts that those words had meant. His model of the Confucian family and Confucian ruler dominated Chinese life into the early 20th century. This had ossified by then into an Imperial hierarchy of rigid property rights, hard to distinguish from any other dictatorship. Traditional ethics had been perverted by legalism.

Buddhist influence[edit]

Buddhism, and specifically Mahayana Buddhism, brought a cohesive metaphysic to Chinese thought and a strong emphasis on universalism. Neo-Confucianism was largely a reaction to Buddhism's dominance in the Tang dynasty, and an attempt at developing a native Confucian metaphysical/analytical system.

Daoist ethics[edit]

Laozi (Lao Tzu) and other Taoist (Daoist) authors argued for an even greater passivity on the part of rulers than did the Confucians. For Laozi, (Lao Tzu) the ideal ruler is one who does virtually nothing that can be directly identified as ruling. Clearly, both Daoism and Confucianism presume that human nature is basically good. The main branch of Confucianism, however, argues that human nature must be nurtured through ritual (li 禮), culture (wen 文) and other things, while the Daoists (Taoists) argued that the trappings of society were to be gotten rid of.

Taoist ethics ask for a greater sense of being and less identification with the act ofdoing. Taoist passivity nurtures, cultivates and prepares an atmosphere that allows the majestic and the real to shine, which influences society for the better. - "If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself; if you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation." - Lao Tzu

Hindu ethics[edit]

Main articles: Hinduism, Yamas, and Niyamas

Ethics is called Nitisastra (Sanskrit: नीतिशास्त्र)[9] in ancient texts of Hinduism.[10] Ethics and virtue are a much debated[11] and an evolving concept in ancient scriptures of Hinduism.[12][13] Virtue, right conduct, ethics and morality are part of the complex concept Hindus call Dharma - everything that is essential for people, the world and nature to exist and prosper together, in harmony.[14] As P.V. Kane, the author of the History of Dharmasastra said, the term "Dharma" does not have a synonym in English language. While it is often interpreted as meaning "duty", it can mean justice, right, moral, good, and much more.[15]

Ethics are explained in Hindu philosophy as something that cannot be imposed, but something that is realized and voluntarily lived up to by each individual. For example, Apastamba explained it thus: "virtue and vice do not go about saying - here we are!; neither the Gods, Gandharvas, nor ancestors can convince us - this is right, this is wrong; virtue is an elusive concept, it demands careful and sustained reflection by every man and woman before it can become part of one's life.[16]

Ethics that constitute a dharmic life - that is a moral, ethical, virtuous life - evolve in vedas and upanishads. Ethical subjects and questions are debated by various schools of Hinduism, quite extensively, in numerous texts on what is right conduct, when, how and why.[10] Over time, new virtues were conceptualized and added by ancient Hindu scholars, some replaced, others merged. For example, Manusamhita initially listed ten virtues necessary for a human being to live a dharmic life: Dhriti (courage), Kshama (forgiveness), Dama (temperance), Asteya (Non-covetousness/Non-stealing), Saucha (inner purity), Indriyani-graha (control of senses), dhi (reflective prudence), vidya (wisdom), satyam (truthfulness), akrodha (freedom from anger).[17] In later verses, this list was reduced to five virtues by the same scholar, by merging and creating a more broader concept. The shorter list of virtues became: Ahimsa (Non-violence), Dama (self restraint), Asteya (Non-covetousness/Non-stealing), Saucha (inner purity), Satyam (truthfulness).[18][19]

The Persian historian Al Biruni who visited and lived in India for 16 years in the early 11th century, describes the concept of ethics and virtuous behavior among Hindus of his times. Of ethical mandates among Hindus, a literal translation of his Persian language manuscript includes (1) A man shall not kill; (2) nor lie; (3) nor steal; (4) nor whore; (5) nor hoard up treasures.[20] These correspond to five Yamas of ancient Hindu ethics: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truth, non-falsehood), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (celibacy if unmarried and non-cheating on one's partner if married), and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness).[21] In addition to these five negative things to abstain from, Hindu ethics also recommends five positive things to strive for as Niyamas: Śauca (purity in body, speech and mind), Santosha (contentment, acceptance of circumstances with optimism), Tapas (perseverance, meditation, austerity), Swadhyaya (lifelong learning) and Pranidhan (right attitude, contemplation).[21][22] An ethical life in Hinduism is essential for a liberated life, one without craving, one that is content, attained through knowledge and by abstaining from evil.[23]

Hindu literature variously discuss ethics as one or more of four topics: (1) Gunas that is inner tendencies of conduct found in every individual (in large measure, psychology); (2) Purushartha that is proper aims of life for every individual for self-development and happiness (dharma, artha, kama and moksha); (3) Ashramas that is ethics for an individual in different periods of one's lifetime (ethical expectations for a child are distinguished from those for adults, old age); and (4) Varnasramas that is ethics and conduct for every individual in relation to society.[10] Ancient literature at the foundation of various Hindu traditions primarily discuss the first three, while the last has attracted greater attention since the 18th century. Some early 20th century literature wondered if ethics was ever a serious topic of study in Hinduism.[24] Later studies have yielded the above four approaches to ethics in different schools of Hinduism, tied together with three common themes:[10][24][25] (1) ethics is an essential part of dharma concept,[26][27] (2) Ahimsa (non-violence) is the foundational premise without which - suggests Hinduism - ethics and any consistent ethical theory is impossible,[28][29] and (3) Ethics cannot always be dualistically or non-dualistically reduced from first principles, ethics is closely related to moksha (self realization and spiritual freedom) with Vivekacudamani stating, "individuals with self knowledge and spiritual freedom are inherently self examining and ethical" and "ethics, freedom and knowledge require each other".[26][30] In addition to the above four topics in Hindu ethics, scholars[31][32] state that the karma doctrine of Hinduism is part of its ethical theory compendium.

The Bhagavad Gita—considered one of the epitomes of historic Hindu discussion of virtues and an allegorical debate on what is right and what is wrong—argues some virtues are not necessarily always absolute, but sometimes relational; for example, it explains a virtue such as Ahimsa must be re-examined when one is faced with war or violence from the aggressiveness, immaturity or ignorance of others.[33][34][35]

Islamic ethics[edit]

Main article: Islamic ethics

The foundational source in the gradual codification of Islamic ethics was the Muslim understanding and interpretations of the mankind has been granted the faculty to discern God's will and to abide by it. This faculty most crucially involves reflecting over the meaning of existence, which, as John Kelsay in the Encyclopedia of Ethics phrases, "ultimately points to the reality of God." Therefore, regardless of their environment, humans are believed to have a moral responsibility to submit to God's will and to follow Islam (as demonstrated in the Qur'an and the Sunnah, or the sayings of Muhammad) [Quran 7:172]).[36]

This natural inclination is, according to the Qur'an, subverted by mankind's focus on material success: such focus first presents itself as a need for basic survival or security, but then tends to manifest into a desire to become distinguished among one's peers. Ultimately, the focus on materialism, according to the Islamic texts, hampers with the innate reflection as described above, resulting in a state of jahiliyya or "ignorance."[36]

Muslims believe that Muhammad, like other prophets in Islam, was sent by God to remind human beings of their moral responsibility, and challenge those ideas in society which opposed submission to God. According to Kelsay, this challenge was directed against five main characteristics of pre-Islamic Arabia:[36]

  1. The division of Arabs into varying tribes (based upon blood and kinship). This categorization was confronted by the ideal of a unified community based upon Islamic piety, an "ummah;"
  2. The acceptance of the worship of a multitude of deities besides Allah - a view challenged by strict Islamic monotheism, which dictates that Allah has no partner in worship nor any equal;
  3. The trait of muruwwa (manliness), which Islam discouraged, instead emphasizing on the traits of humility and piety;
  4. The focus on achieving fame or establishing a legacy, which was replaced by the concept that mankind would be called to account before God on the day of resurrection;
  5. The reverence of and compliance with ancestral traditions, a practice challenged by Islam — which instead assigned primacy to submitting to God and following revelation.

These changes lay in the reorientation of society as regards to identity and life of the Muslim belief, world view, and the hierarchy of values. From the viewpoint of subsequent generations, this caused a great transformation in the society and moral order of life in the Arabian Peninsula. For Muhammad, although pre-Islamic Arabia exemplified "heedlessness," it was not entirely without merit. Muhammad approved and exhorted certain aspects of the Arab pre-Islamic tradition, such as the care for one’s near kin, for widows, orphans, and others in need and for the establishment of justice. However, these values would be re-ordered in importance and placed in the context of strict monotheism.[36]

Furthermore, a Muslim should not only follow these five main characteristics, but also be more broad about his morals. Therefore, the more the Muslim is applying these rules, the better that person is morally. For example,Islamic ethics can be applied by important verses in the Quran . The most fundamental characteristics of a Muslim are piety and humility. A Muslim must be humble with God and with other people:

“And turn not your face away from people (with pride), nor walk in insolence through the earth. Verily, God likes not each arrogant boaster. And be moderate (or show no insolence) in your walking, and lower your voice. Verily, the harshest of all voices is the voice (braying) of the ass.” (Quran 31:18-19)

Muslims must be in controls of their passions and desires.

A Muslim should not be vain or attached to the ephemeral pleasures of this world. While most people allow the material world to fill their hearts, Muslims should keep God in their hearts and the material world in their hand. Instead of being attached to the car and the job and the diploma and the bank account, all these things become tools to make us better people. Morality in Islam addresses every aspect of a Muslim’s life, from greetings to international relations. It is universal in its scope and in its applicability. Morality reigns in selfish desires, vanity and bad habits. Muslims must not only be virtuous, but they must also enjoin virtue. They must not only refrain from evil and vice, but they must also forbid them. In other words, they must not only be morally healthy, but they must also contribute to the moral health of society as a whole.

“You are the best of the nations raised up for (the benefit of) men; you enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong and believe in God; and if the followers of the Book had believed it would have been better for them; of them (some) are believers and most of them are transgressors.” (Quran: 3:110)

Muhammad summarized the conduct of a Muslim when he said:

“My Sustainer has given me nine commands: to remain conscious of God, whether in private or in public; to speak justly, whether angry or pleased; to show moderation both when poor and when rich, to reunite friendship with those who have broken off with me; to give to him who refuses me; that my silence should be occupied with thought; that my looking should be an admonition; and that I should command what is right.”

Jewish ethics[edit]

Main article: Jewish ethics

Jewish ethics may be said to originate with the Hebrew Bible, its broad legal injunctions, wisdom narratives and prophetic teachings. Most subsequent Jewish ethical claims may be traced back to the texts, themes and teachings of the written Torah.

In early rabbinic Judaism, the oral Torah both interprets the Hebrew Bible and delves afresh into many other ethical topics. The best known rabbinic text associated with ethics is the non-legal Mishnahtractate of Avot, popularly translated as Ethics of the Fathers. Generally, ethics is a key aspect of non-legal rabbinic literature, known as aggadah, and ethical teachings are found throughout the more legal (halakhic) portions of the Mishnah, Talmud and other rabbinic literature. This early Rabbinic ethics shows signs of cross-fertilization and polemical exchange with both the Greek (Western philosophical) ethical tradition and early Christian tradition.

In the medieval period, direct Jewish responses to Greek ethics may be seen in major rabbinic writings. Notably, Maimonides offers a Jewish interpretation of Aristotle (e.g., Nicomachean Ethics), who enters into Jewish discourse through Islamic writings. Maimonides, in turn, influences Thomas Aquinas, a dominant figure in Catholic ethics and the natural law tradition of moral theology. The relevance of natural law to medieval Jewish philosophy is a matter of dispute among scholars.

Hellenistic influence[edit]

See also: Hellenistic Judaism

Ethics in systematic form, and apart from religious belief, is as little found in apocryphal or Judæo-Hellenistic literature as in the Bible. However, Greek philosophy greatly influenced Alexandrian writers such as the authors of IV Maccabees, the Book of Wisdom, and Philo.

Much progress in theoretical ethics came as Jews came into closer contact with the Hellenic world. Before that period the Wisdom literature shows a tendency to dwell solely on the moral obligations and problems of life as appealing to man as an individual, leaving out of consideration the ceremonial and other laws which concern only the Jewish nation. From this point of view Ben Sira's collection of sayings and monitions was written, translated into Greek, and circulated as a practical guide. The book contains popular ethics in proverbial form as the result of everyday life experience, without higher philosophical or religious principles and ideals.

More developed ethical works emanated from Hasidean circles in the Maccabean time, such as are contained in Tobit, especially in Chapter IV. Here the first ethical will or testament is found, giving a summary of moral teachings, with the Golden Rule, "Do that to no man which thou hatest!" as the leading maxim. There are even more elaborate ethical teachings in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, in which each of the twelve sons of Jacob, in his last words to his children and children's children, reviews his life and gives them moral lessons, either warning them against a certain vice he had been guilty of, so that they may avoid divine punishment, or recommending them to cultivate a certain virtue he had practised during life, so that they may win God's favor. The chief virtues recommended are love for one's fellow man, industry, especially in agricultural pursuits, simplicity, sobriety, benevolence toward the poor, compassion even for the brute and avoidance of all passion, pride, and hatred. Similar ethical farewell monitions are attributed to Enoch in the Ethiopic Enoch (xciv. et seq.) and the Slavonic Enoch (lviii. et seq.) and to the three patriarchs.

The Hellenistic Jewish propaganda literature made the propagation of Jewish ethics taken from the Bible its main object for the sake of winning the pagan world to pure monotheism. It was owing to this endeavor that certain ethical principles were laid down as guiding maxims for the Gentiles, first of all the three capital sins, idolatry, murder, and incest, were prohibited (see Sibyllines, iii. 38, 761; iv. 30 et seq.). In later Jewish rabbinic literature these Noachide Laws were gradually developed into six, seven, and ten, or thirty laws of ethics binding upon every human being.

Germanic Neopagan ethics[edit]

Germanic Neopagans, including followers of both Asatru and Theodism, try to emulate the ethical values of the ancient Germanic peoples (Norse or Anglo-Saxon) through the form of the Nine Noble Virtues.

Scientology ethics[edit]

Main article: Ethics (Scientology)

Scientology ethics is based upon the concepts of good and evil. Ethics may be defined as the actions an individual takes on itself to ensure its continued survival across the dynamics.[37]

Secular ethics[edit]

Main article: Morality without religion

See also: Secular ethics

Secular ethics is a moral philosophy in which ethics are based solely on human faculties such as scientific reason, sociobiological composition, or ethical intuition, and not derived from purported supernatural revelation or guidance. Secular ethics comprise a wide variety of moral and ethical systems including consequentialism, freethinking, humanism, secular humanism, and utilitarianism, among others.

The majority of secular moral concepts are based on the acceptance of natural rights and social contracts, and on a more individual scale of either some form of attribution of intrinsic value to things, Kantianesqueethical intuitionism or of a logical deduction that establishes a preference for one thing over another, as with Occam's razor.[citation needed] Approaches such as ethical egoism, moral relativism, moral skepticism, and moral nihilism are also considered.

Shinto ethics[edit]

Shinto beliefs start with an assumption of the inherent goodness of humans as descendants of the kami.[38] By the 6th century CE, Shinto had drawn from a Chinese idea that good people will adhere to societal norms, and emperors have a divine mandate to bring about the "desirable and required order".[38] Shinto adherents are to "realize and carry out the will of the kami and the ancestors in the family, the community, and the nation".[38]

Although State Shinto reinforced subordination to the emperor and the state, Shrine Shinto is a situation-based ethical system that emphasizes right actions toward others, versus adherence to a specific belief system.[39] Shrine Shinto also stresses gratefulness for "blessings of the kami", and maintaining harmony with the emperor and the world.[39]

Wiccan ethics[edit]

Main article: Wiccan morality

Wiccan morality is largely based on the Wiccan Rede: 'An' it harm none, do what ye will' -- old-fashioned language for 'as long as you aren't harming anyone, do as you wish'. While this could be interpreted to mean "do no harm at all", it is usually interpreted as a declaration of the freedom to act, along with the necessity of thinking through and taking responsibility for the consequences of one's actions.[40]

Another element of Wiccan Morality comes from the Law of Threefold Return, which is understood to mean that whatever one does to another person or thing (benevolent or otherwise) returns with triple force.[41]

Many Wiccans also seek to cultivate a set of eight virtues mentioned in Doreen Valiente's Charge of the Goddess,[42] these being mirth, reverence, honour, humility, strength, beauty, power and compassion. In Valiente's poem they are ordered in pairs of complementary opposites, reflecting a dualism that is common throughout Wiccan philosophy.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Ethics"
  2. ^Singer, P. (1993) Practical Ethics, 2nd edition (p.10), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  3. ^Simon, Blackburn (2001). Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-19-280442-6. 
  4. ^Damien Keown The Nature of Buddhist Ethics Macmillan 1992; Peter Harvey An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics Cambridge University Press 2000
  5. ^Robert Ellis A Buddhist theory of moral objectivity (Ph.D. thesis)Archived 2011-07-23 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^Carl Olson, The Different Paths of Buddhism p.73
  7. ^Bodhi (1994). For other examples of Buddhist discourses that promote ethical behaviors among laity see, for instance, the Sigalovada Sutta (referred to as "the Vinaya of the householder" by Buddhaghosa) and the Dhammika Sutta.
  8. ^Stephen H. Phillips & other authors (2008), in Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace, & Conflict (Second Edition), ISBN 978-0123739858, Elsevier Science, Pages 1347–1356, 701-849, 1867
  9. ^Ethics Sanskrit English Dictionary
  10. ^ abcdAlban G. Widgery (1930), The Principles of Hindu Ethics, International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 40, No. 2 (Jan., 1930), pp. 232-245
  11. ^Roderick Hindery (2004), Comparative Ethics in Hindu and Buddhist Traditions, ISBN 978-8120808669; pages 268-72;
    • Quote: "(In Hinduism), srutis did not pretend to deal with all situations or irregularities in the moral life, leaving these matters to human reasons (Mbh Xii.109); Accordingly, that again which is virtue may, according to time and place, be sin (...); Under certain conditions, acts that are apparently evil (such as violence) can be permitted if they produce consequences that are good (protection of children and women in self defense when the society is attacked in war)
    • Quote: "(The Hindu scripture) notes the interrelationship of several virtues, consequentially. Anger springs from covetousness; (the vice of) envy disappears in consequence of (the virtues) of compassion and knowledge of self (Mbh Xii.163);
  12. ^Crawford, S. Cromwell (1982), The evolution of Hindu ethical ideals, Asian Studies Program, University of Hawaii Press
  13. ^Becker and Becker (2001), Encyclopedia of Ethics, ISBN 978-0415936729, 2nd Edition, Routledge, pages 845-848
  14. ^Steven Rosen (2006), Essential Hinduism, Praeger, ISBN 0-275-99006-0, page 31-45
  15. ^Kane, P. V. (1962). Kane, P.V. (1962), History of Dharmasastra (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law in India),. Pune: Bhandarkar Press. pp. Volume 1, pp 2–10. 
  16. ^Phillip Wagoner, see Foreword, in Srinivasan, Dharma: Hindu Approach to a Purposeful Life, ISBN 978-1-62209-672-5;
    • Also see: Apastamba, Dharma Sutra, 1.20.6
  17. ^Tiwari, K. N. (1998), Classical Indian Ethical Thought: A Philosophical Study of Hindu, Jaina, and Buddhist Morals, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, ISBN 978-81-208-1608-4, pp 52-55
  18. ^Gupta, B. (2006). BHAGAVAD GĪTĀ AS DUTY AND VIRTUE ETHICS. Journal of Religious Ethics, 34(3), 373-395.
  19. ^Mohapatra & Mohapatra, Hinduism: Analytical Study, ISBN 978-8170993889; see pages 37-40
  20. ^Alberuni's India (v. 1), Chapter VII, Columbia University Libraries, London : Kegan Paul, Trübner & Co., (1910), page 73-75
  21. ^ abAndrea Hornett (2012), Ancient Ethics and Contemporary Systems: The Yamas, the Niyamas and Forms of Organization, in Leadership through the Classics (Editor: Prastacos et al), Springer-Verlag, ISBN 978-3-642-32445-1, Chapter 5, pages 63-78
  22. ^B. Chandel (2014), The Immanent and the Transcendent in Indian Ethics, Ethics or Moral Philosophy, Contemporary Philosophy: A New Survey, Volume 11, ISBN 978-94-007-6894-9, pp 35-37
  23. ^Alberuni's India (v. 1), Chapter VII, Columbia University Libraries, London : Kegan Paul, Trübner & Co., (1910), page 72-73
  24. ^ abWilliam F. Goodwin, Ethics and Value in Indian Philosophy, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Jan., 1955), pp. 321-344
  25. ^Wilhelm Halbfass, Tradition and Reflection - Explorations in Indian Thought, State University of New York Press, ISBN 0-7914-0362-9
  26. ^ abWilliam F. Goodwin, Ethics and Value in Indian Philosophy, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Jan., 1955), pages 328-329
  27. ^Arti Dhand (2002), The Dharma of Ethics, the Ethics of Dharma: Quizzing the Ideals of Hinduism, The Journal of Religious Ethics, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Fall, 2002), pp. 347-372
  28. ^Wilhelm Halbfass, Tradition and Reflection - Explorations in Indian Thought, State University of New York Press, ISBN 0-7914-0362-9, pages 87-96, 111-114, 131-257
  29. ^B. Chandel (2014), The Immanent and the Transcendent in Indian Ethics, Ethics or Moral Philosophy, Contemporary Philosophy: A New Survey, Volume 11, ISBN 978-94-007-6894-9, pp 35-46
  30. ^Wilhelm Halbfass, Tradition and Reflection - Explorations in Indian Thought, State University of New York Press, ISBN 0-7914-0362-9, page 394, 353
  31. ^Bruce R. Reichenbach (1988), The Law of Karma and the Principle of Causation, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Oct., 1988), pp. 399-410
  32. ^Roy W. Perrett (1998), Hindu Ethics: A Philosophical Study, University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 978-0824820855
  33. ^Subedi, S. P. (2003). The Concept in Hinduism of ‘Just War’. Journal of Conflict and Security Law, 8(2), pages 339-361
  34. ^Klaus K. Klostermaier (1996), in Harvey Leonard Dyck and Peter Brock (Ed), The Pacifist Impulse in Historical Perspective, see Chapter on Himsa and Ahimsa Traditions in Hinduism, ISBN 978-0802007773, University of Toronto Press, pages 230-234
  35. ^Bakker, F. L. (2013), Comparing the Golden Rule in Hindu and Christian Religious Texts. Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, 42(1), pages 38-58
  36. ^ abcdIslamic ethics, Encyclopedia of Ethics
  37. ^"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-06-17. Retrieved 2006-04-12. 
  38. ^ abcBowker, John (1997). World Religions: The Great Faiths Explored & Explained. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited. p. 101. ISBN 0-7894-1439-2. 
  39. ^ abBowker, John (1997). World Religions: The Great Faiths Explored & Explained. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited. p. 108. ISBN 0-7894-1439-2. 
  40. ^Harrow, Judy (1985) "Exegesis on the Rede"Archived 2007-07-28 at WebCite in Harvest vol. 5, Number 3 (Oimelc 1985). Retrieved 26 February 2007.
  41. ^Gerald Gardner, High Magic's Aid, London: Michael Houghton, 1949, p.303
  42. ^Farrar, Janet & Stewart, Eight Sabbats for Witches.


Going for Refuge & Taking the Precepts (The Wheel Publication No. 282/284). Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. (Originally published 1981 and transcribed for Internet publication in 1994.) Retrieved 2007-11-12 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel282.html.

External links[edit]

One thought on “Bioethics Definition Religion Essay

Leave a comment

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *