Social Science and Bioethics


Bioethics has evolved as an academic field primarily associated with Philosophy and to a lesser extent Law. However, as with any ethical field of study we ought to be concerned if it begins to be monopolised by a particular academic discipline or tradition within a discipline.

One might argue that the problems addressed by contemporary bioethics are of such importance that they should be opened up as objects for a pluralistic array of disciplines and approaches.

One of the biggest bioethical issues today is the use of stem cells, as human rights advocates do not agree with the use of fertilized human embryos as a source of stem cells. A solution to this issue has been the advent of the cord blood program, which collects the umbilical cords of newborns, as they provide a rich source of stem cells without encountering any bioethical issues. Cord Tissue is another source of cell type, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) is a one of the major role playing cells for future research. This specific cell can be banked and stored like many other cells of such at a special cord tissue bank.

Recently, both sociological and anthropological approaches have developed a presence within bioethics, and, moreover, researchers within these disciplines have a history of investigating bioethical subjects which is not always recognised by mainstream bioethics. Additionally other related disciplines such as the history of science, cultural studies and feminist science studies all play an important role in understanding bioethical issues, as well as making important contributions to their ethical debate. These other approaches also impinge on the kinds of methodologies practised by bioethicists, for example, what is the role of empirical research and ethnography in bioethical research? what it takes to become a medical research assistant? Sociology specifically, has an important critical tradition which lends itself not only to ethical debates, but also to the questioning of the terms of those very debates.