what is bioethics

Curious about the ever-expanding field of medicine and biology and how to interpret and apply emerging technology ethically?

Medicine and health care are constantly changing and advancing, and with each change and advance comes the concern of ethics. In light of controversial medical tools like reproductive technology and stem cell research, Christian health care providers often find themselves asking what their responsibility is to their patients versus the desire to uphold their own personal convictions.

That’s where bioethics can help—it helps nurses, doctors, and other health care providers approach both medical tools and questions of responsibility from a solid ethical framework.

What is bioethics?

Bioethics is the study of moral problems in medicine and biological technology and traces its roots back to the 1970s when it first began taking shape as a new field following notable publications by Van Rensselaer Potter and Daniel Callahan as well as discussions on the topic by Sargent Shriver and André Hellegers.

As a relatively new field, bioethics deals with issues that most of us confront at some point in our lives, including reproductive technology, medicine, abortion, cloning, human embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, human subject research, and end-of-life issues as well as the management of health care resources and health care reform. Although the study of bioethics can help provide answers to questions regarding the use of controversial advances, it’s more concerned with providing training and insight on how to engage with each medical advance or tool, understand the implications, and arrive at a thoughtful conclusion.

“It incorporates biology, medicine, law, public health—all sorts of fields are pulled together under the umbrella of bioethics,” said Rev. Dr. Kevin Voss, director of the Concordia Center for Bioethics. “It studies anything to do with life, from the beginning of life to the middle of life to the end of life.”

Why is bioethics needed?

We’re passionate about bioethics here at Concordia because we’ve seen the impact it can have in medicine and throughout the various health professions. To help others experience that impact and take advantage of its insight, we offer both a minor and a graduate certificate in bioethics.

“If you don’t have bioethics, you’re not able to see all sides and get good perspective,” said Becca Zemanovic, a recent graduate who participated in bioethics courses while at Concordia. “It can impact you on a cultural level, it can impact you on so many different levels. . .You’re able to see more sides of things if you know the ethical principles.”

Zemanovic is currently pursuing her doctorate in occupational therapy at St. Ambrose in Iowa. In her studies there, she encounters questions of bioethics in almost every course and project. She credits Concordia for preparing her to engage those questions thoughtfully and critically.  

“I wouldn’t be where I am today at all without Concordia, let alone, without bioethics. . . I feel like I got a well-rounded experience at Concordia,” Zemanovic said. “Luckily, everyone is pretty open-minded where I’m at right now. But I’m sure when I go out more in the field, things might be applied differently. That’s why I feel like it’s so important for everyone to have a background in [bioethics].”

Bioethics provides a solid baseline of how medical professionals should relate to patients not only in general care but also in suggesting new, advanced types of treatment. For Christians, there’s an added layer of complexity in seeking to interpret each issue through the lens of faith.

“Having a graduate certificate in bioethics makes anyone an attractive hire if they’re looking for a job, especially in the health care industry,” Rev. Dr. Voss said. “But it also provides a lot of good information for people who deal with ethical issues in biology and health care on a daily basis, like pastors and health care professionals. Almost anyone would benefit from the program.”

Even beyond practical applications of how to treat patients ethically, we believe Christians, as a whole, should have a general understanding of bioethics in order to comprehend their own personal responsibility as they consider utilizing controversial, cutting-edge medical treatments and tools that are currently available.

Getting educated

In order to help health care professionals and others as they consider emerging biotechnology, we offer a graduate certificate in bioethics that is available completely online. With only 12 credits required for completion of the program, participants are able to begin and finish their studies within a year, earning a certificate that not only sets them apart professionally but also equips them with valuable Christian perspectives on ethics as they navigate the complex realms of medicine and biology.

To learn more about our graduate certificate in bioethics, please visit our program page.

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