What is the difference between ethics and bioethics?


Ethics is a broad field that seeks to understand concepts of right and wrong. There are 3 ares of ethics: metaethics, normative ethics and applied ethics.


Metaethics focuses on what exists in the universe. These can be physical like a galaxy, rock or person, or nonphysical like a thought, spirit or god. Questions that metaethicists ask include: What can we know? What is important? Are their universal truths? Do we have a soul? Is there a god? What does it mean to exist?

Normative ethics involves establishing standards that can determine what is right and wrong. An example is the 'Golden Rule': Do to others only what you would have them do to you. Such standards are often considered using three theories:

  • Virtue – A person or group should exhibit good moral character as evidenced by moral behavior.
  • Duty – It is a person's or group's duty to not hurt another, be fair, treat people as equals, take care of one's self, continue to learn and improve, to follow moral codes, etc.
  • Consequences – The outcome of a person's or group's actions will result in the most good for the most people.

 Applied Ethics involves the analysis of specific controversial moral issues such as abortion, euthanasia, animal rights, pollution, etc.

Bioethics is a field within applied ethics that focuses on ethical issues that relate to biology and biological systems. Bioethics generally includes medical ethics, animal ethics and environmental ethics and how these overlap. Some questions bioethicists ask include: How should we use a person's genomic data? Should we use animals to grow human organs? How should we distribute a new vaccine? How do we manage cybernetic technologies like the brain-computer interface? A key analysis approach in bioethcs is the four-principle approach developed by Tom Beauchamp and James Childress that consists of four universal principles: (1) autonomy, (2) non-maleficence, (3) beneficence, and (4) justice used in ethical reasoning and decision making.