Bioethics and Medical Ethics

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Bioethics and Medical Ethics, which emerged in the 1970s as a subject of broad societal study and concern, has increasingly commanded the attention of North American Mennonites in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1985 Mennonite Mutual Aid called together a Heath Ethics Review Committee which resulted in the publication of Medical ethics, human choices, edited by John Rogers (Scottdale, 1988).

Issues of bioethics have ceased to be of concern primarily to medical professionals, and responding to them is no longer the prerogative of medical professionals. These issues have drawn the interest and intervention of government, a wide range of professions, interest groups, the mass media, and the general public. Reasons for the upsurge of interest are many. First, many new medical technologies have been introduced; respirators, kidney dialysis, sperm banks and artificial insemination, genetic engineering, computerized data processing, complex life support systems, heart and organ transplantation, new and expensive wonder drugs, and much more.

Second, medical services have become more sophisticated and concentrated in clinics and large medical institutions with accompanying increases in costs. Third, standards of medical and nursing care have risen and are more carefully monitored by public agencies. Fourth, new lay movements have arisen, beginning in the 1960s -- civil rights, feminism, environmental action, advocacy groups for the elderly, etc. -- all of which have empowered groups heretofore relatively silent on concerns of cost, equity, quality, and public policies relating to medical care.

Bioethical issues can be divided into micro and macro issues. Micro or personal and familial issues include the following: abortion, birth control, organ transplants, prolongation of life, heroic measures for severely impaired infants, AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), homosexuality, sperm banks, surrogate motherhood, alcoholism, and drug abuse.

Macro issues are broader in scope and invite public policy decisions and action. Some of these issues are both macro and micro in scale: abortion, birth control, alcoholism, etc. Larger bioethicaI issues, which increasingly have claimed the attention of Mennonites, include the following: world hunger, environmental pollution (acid rain, nuclear radiation, etc.), population controls, genetic engineering, sex education, equity in the availability of medical services, allocation of limited medical resources (e.g., organs, expensive medicines, scarce equipment, limited hospital space), governmental health care coverage, public campaigns against drug sales and use, etc.

Increasingly it is being recognized that the many vexing issues of bioethics are not resolved by simple technical professional answers. They are invariably complex human problems which require the wisdom and insights of medical professionals and laity, and the discernment of congregations and public agencies. These issues are on the agendas of Mennonite congregations and conferences.

See also: Ethics; Health Services; Hospitals, Clinics, and Dispensaries; Medicine


In addition to the book mentioned in the article, see Graydon F. Snyder. Tough choices. Elgin, Ill.; Brethren Press, 1988.

Author(s) Robert S Kreider
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Kreider, Robert S. "Bioethics and Medical Ethics." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 11 May 2021.

APA style

Kreider, Robert S. (1989). Bioethics and Medical Ethics. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 11 May 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 85. All rights reserved.

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