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

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Case Study: Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 Bioethics
  • 1:12 Autonomy
  • 1:55 Justice
  • 3:00 Beneficence
  • 3:45 Non-Maleficence
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed Audio mode

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

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


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 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.


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.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account