Online Program

Re-Conceptualizing Bioethics: Public, Individual, and Environment

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 : 4:30 p.m. - 4:50 p.m.

Jonathan Beever, Ph.D, Philosophy, The Rock Ethics Institute, Penn State University, University Park, PA
Bruce Jennings, MA, -, Center for Humans and Nature, Brentwood, TN

Peter J. Whitehouse, MD PhD, Professor of Neurology and Director of Adult Learning at TIS, Case Western Reserve University and The Intergenerational School, Shaker Heights, OH
What is the relationship between public health ethics and bioethics?  These two arenas of applied ethics seem to differ in numerous ways, including in terms of their normative commitments, practical emphases, and disciplinary interfaces, yet perhaps share some common purpose. In this presentation, I will articulate some of these conceptual and normative differences and then argue for the practical benefits of reframing public health ethics as a specialization of a reconceptualized and broader bioethics.

Individual welfare and rights are the normative focus of bioethics. Public health ethics, on the other hand, places priority on community-level concerns, including population health and just distribution of harms and benefits. Yet, the goals of public health work are not dualistically opposed to the goals of medical bioethics: the health of the public is integrally linked to the health of the individual members of the community populations that make it up. Yet public health ethics and bioethics remain largely distinct from each other in the disciplinary contexts related to health.

Engaging them together in service of better health outcomes requires their conceptual integration under the umbrella of a bioethics, overcomes the epistemic and ontological narrowness of current biomedical ethics. A commitment to this conclusion is supported by understanding bioethics etymologically as an ethics of life.  By returning to genealogical roots of the term as a broader ecologically-engaged concept in the works of German pastor Fritz Jahr and American cancer researcher Van Rensselaer Potter, I articulate some ways in which public health ethics can benefit from conceptually-coherent engagement with a broader range of bioethical concerns.  Reconstructed in this way, bioethics can help bridge existing gaps between issues in medical, environmental, and public health ethics.

Learning Areas:

Environmental health sciences
Ethics, professional and legal requirements
Public health or related public policy
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Identify conceptual and normative differences between public health ethics, biomedical ethics, and environmental ethics. Compare historical perspectives on bioethics as a term and as a concept. Assess the place and role of environmental and public health concerns in bioethics

Keyword(s): Ethics, Environmental Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: My training, research focus, publishing record, and collaborative experience on federally-funded projects focuses on applied and bioethics education and analysis. Conceptual analysis of questions and topics around health ethics are central to that focus.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.