What is Bioethics?
Bioethics is the discipline that studies and responds to moral and ethical issues related to fairness.
Bioethics vs. Medical Ethics
Medical Ethics and Bioethics are closely associated. The latter is a branch of, or field within, the former. Bioethics is science that aims at identification, analysis and resolution of the ethical issues in almost any field that is related to human life and health. Compared to bioethics, medical ethics only emphasizes the medical treatment of humans and is more specific. It involves activity or role-based obligations.
Principles of Bioethics
- Autonomy: To respect a person’s right to make their own decisions. This encompasses the right to be free to make choices about your body.
- Beneficence: To treat people with dignity. This focuses on doing things that are of benefit to another. It requires positive steps to help, and not merely avoiding doing harm.
- Non-maleficence: To not inflict harm on people. Harm is to be avoided or minimized. This is the underlying tenet of medical professional mission statements.
- Justice: To treat people fairly. This requires attention to prioritizing and rationing. There is no one just way to allocate resources, and most systems utilize several prioritizing schemes in concert to attempt to achieve a just distribution.
Importance of Bioethics
Bioethics in healthcare brings about awareness to health workers of the medical practice as well as enriches the ability of health workers to further understand the patient as a person. Highlighting the ethical side of bioethics, health workers are now able to follow an ethical code when working with patients which was once a problem. Ethical problems have a clear connection to problems in health care. So, by the emergence of bioethics, healthcare now has been significantly improved.
Why Should I Care?
Bioethics plays an important role in our daily life, whether we realize it or not. Now, more than ever, everyone has become a subject to heavily discuss bioethics issues that arise because of the pandemic.
Who Gets to Be Treated in Hospital?
The virus has shed light on how underprepared the world is in handling pandemic. Many hospitals find themselves under-equipped and in great overcapacity. A dilemma soon arises in choosing between COVID patients and non-COVID patients; while patients in the ICU require immediate medical assistance, the lives of COVID patients depend on ventilators.
With resources being limited, healthcare workers are forced to pick and choose between patients. This high bed-occupancy rate is further complicated by the need for social distancing and the prevention of cross-contamination.
Who Gets the Vaccines First?
Most prominently seen during the beginning of vaccine production, some people were prioritized over others in receiving their shots. Such prioritization aims to decrease the impact of the COVID-19 virus as much and as effectively as possible. This is done by allocating and distributing resources to populations who need them most. This includes medical workers, essential workers, and those vulnerable to the disease.
An ongoing debate is whether we should prioritize booster shots for medical workers as well. On one hand, we’d be strengthening the frontliners in battling COVID, while in the other hand, the total number of protected people would significantly drop.
Who Gets Which Type of Vaccines?
Vaccine inequity has been one of the most considerable obstacles in the COVID-19 pandemic. High-income countries have been able to receive surpluses of vaccines, many of which are thrown away. Meanwhile, low and middle-income countries still face vaccine inaccessibility. Health, social and economic impacts are thus worsened, due to the need for longer periods of reinstatements of public health and social measures, delays in vaccination, and appearance of newer COVID variants.
Additionally, not all vaccines are equal. Eastern-made vaccines such as Sinovac have yet to be recognized and accepted by many EU and US countries, putting further restrictions on Asian travelers.
What other ethical issues arise since the pandemic?
Online school has posed several limitations on the quality of education children receive, which deeply impinges upon their right to education. Forced to sit still and watch screens all day, children find it harder and harder to focus and learn. Additionally, without social interaction, children are unable to develop social skills to help release their built-up stress. These lights are further exacerbated in areas with poor internet connection, as new information and virtual learning remain inaccessible.