Bioethics Thinking Modules

Welcome to Modern Bioethics “thinking modules”, designed to incorporate critical thinking and common sense in the bioethics space. These short explorations of bioethics aim to discover and apply new approaches and critically examine blind spots in common approaches. The goal is not to solve problems but to develop problem-solving considerations, techniques, and processes. How are we thinking about problems? Why are there so many actions that are deeply problematic to some people but that are not problematic to others? The different views may be complex ethical differences or simply questions of convenience and whose power aligns with the convenience. Links to each topic are at the bottom of this page.

Anne Zimmerman CC-BY-NC

This website focuses on which frameworks are most helpful in addressing which issues and draws on many disciplines. This project is an effort to contextualize bioethical dilemmas, to expand the thought process to include more considerations, and to explore  the stakeholders and the ethical differences in their stake. Critical thinking and logic will help identify the breadth of the issues and delineate the role of public policy or even global cooperation from the role of corporate, hospital, or even individual behaviors. There are a lot of stakeholders in bioethics; sometimes the arena is global and individuals everywhere will be impacted by a scientific discovery. Some people are more able to speak for themselves or hold more power in the conversation. In some countries corporations or the government drown out other voices. Challenging power structures and the prerequisites of citizen power is one way to incorporate more voices.

I try to highlight the shortfalls of some known frameworks and offer inclusive frameworks or necessary add-ons in some cases. While the citations include authors with different (including mainstream) approaches, I aim to promote forward-thinking approaches to complex scientific and medical ethical dilemmas. For example, some issues are best resolved by using a broad framework, e.g., in analyzing the effects of policies on the harms caused by the pandemic. Other issues may require expanding on or abandoning the four principles like looking more deeply into how beneficence is interpreted with an eye to underlying philosophy or creating multiple justice frameworks. Beneficence, for example, is doing good, which differs from being good, something that might be better addressed with virtue ethics. Beneficence cannot operate without limitation or autonomy would be sacrificed.

Can Expansive Frameworks Help Broaden Thinking?

I do not focus on the conclusions as much as on how to reach well-reasoned valid conclusions. This program expands the bioethics arena beyond principlism and expands the depth of analysis when principlism is applied. Rather than leading to checklists, something I do find valuable in preventing ethics breaches or problems in clinical settings, the goal of the learning modules is to use multiple frameworks to define issues and problem-solving techniques. The best solutions involve compromise if not consensus, but explore the role of stakeholders and rights. Sometimes the best solution might reflect negative rights, sometimes called natural rights, and the compromise or consensus is that individuals decide for themselves.

We Cannot Always Agree to Disagree

Rather than agreeing to disagree, something that allows people to walk away righteous and even angry, those evaluating bioethical dilemmas should think through both positions and aim to understand the other stakeholders’ reasoning. Reasoning and deliberation can lead to mutual understanding, allowing people to appreciate other viewpoints, and ensuring that the most well-reasoned, all-things-considered approach will be contemplated and poised for success, or at least for respect. By propelling views supported by reasoning, data, and ethics, inclusive ethical frameworks can move bioethics toward becoming a forward-thinking field that values multiple stakeholders and brings parties together.

I continue to add articles (mostly available in the public domain & links will be improved.) The slides and videos provided tend to be lighter overviews and do give some background. Each lesson’s slides end with the framework slide also found on this post’s slides. THIS ENTIRE PROJECT IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. It will likely remain free and accessible. Any views not cited as someone else’s are my own.

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