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Principles of Bioethics: Autonomy, Justice, Beneficence & Non-maleficence

Principles of Bioethics: Autonomy, Justice, Beneficence & Non-maleficence
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  • 0:00 Bioethics
  • 1:12 Autonomy
  • 1:55 Justice
  • 3:00 Beneficence
  • 3:45 Non-Maleficence
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

This lesson covers the four principles of bioethics: autonomy, justice, beneficence and non-maleficence. We'll look at examples of how each one is applied to bioethics.

Bioethics

We have laws that tell us what we cannot do. Most of them are straightforward, either something is legal or it is not. They make it easy to distinguish what we should or should not do. Things become very ambiguous when we start to look at right and wrong based on morals or other beliefs. This refers to what we call ethics.

Ethical decisions are presented in our lives on a daily basis. Some ethical situations present a clear distinction between what is right while others present a huge gray area that can be debated until the end of time. Ethics permeates through every facet of life. Bioethics refers to ethics pertaining to life and how we alter life.

Bioethics is very prevalent in the areas of medicine, healthcare, and biomedical research. Each of these areas requires respect for the lives of others. It is considered by many to be human nature to want to succeed in life and as such, the value of another person's life may be diminished or the effect of manipulations on another person's life may not be taken into as much consideration as it should be. Since this is the case, four basic principles were put into place to help people govern themselves.

Autonomy

Autonomy is the principle that states people should be educated and able to make decisions regarding what happens to them without being influenced. This simply means that all aspects of the decision should be presented to someone to allow them to make an educated decision. The information presented should be as factual as possible without bias or personal options being asserted.

For instance, if William is inquiring about joining a research study on HIV vaccines, then he needs to know what the study entails, possible outcomes, and any impacts this could have on his life following the research study.

Justice

The principle of justice can almost be summed up in the word 'equal'. In bioethics, justice refers to everyone having an equal opportunity. This principle seeks to eliminate discrimination in biological studies and healthcare. Healthcare and research should not be based on sex, race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc, if possible.

One easy example of this principle occurs frequently in healthcare. Resources such as blood, organs, medications, and medical equipment are limited to one degree or another. Everyone needing these resources should have an equal opportunity to receive them. This may seem like a no-brainer, but this is not always how it goes.

One of the biggest interferences with this example is the ability to pay for the resource. Doctors and hospitals are sometimes reluctant to give resources to those that cannot afford it. The other interference with this is the value that is placed on a person's life due to prejudices, biases, and racism. Healthcare workers may feel that a person that helps others deserves to get resources more than a person who previously committed a crime.

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