Timeline of bioethics

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This is a timeline of bioethics, listing significant events in the development of the field.

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Time period Development summary
<1960s Discussions of moral issues in medicine already happen in ancient times, with early contributions by Hippocrates and Plato.[1] In the 20th century, German theologian Fritz Jahr publishes three articles in 1927, 1928, and 1934 using the German term “Bio-Ethik”, forcefully arguing an ethical approach to issues concerning human beings and the environment.[2]
1960s Bioethics as a distinct field of academic study is born in the United States, merging from a cluster of scientific and cultural developments in the country during that decade.[3]
1970s–1980s Many bioethics programs and degrees are established at universities in the United States in order to provide students – most notably medical, law, and public policy students – with some expertise in medical ethics to deal with complex cases.[2] Feminist bioethics develops from the early 1970s on and is initially focused on medical ethics; proponents later extend the areas of interest to issues in the fields of animal and environmental ethics.[2] In the late 1980s, the Russian school of bioethics originates.[4]
1990s In the last decade of the 20th century, the contributions of social scientists to bioethical research become particularly important. Work of this type involves surveys of public attitudes to advances in the life sciences, including xenotransplantation and genetic modification.[1]
2000s Ethics consultation begins to emerge as another, more enduring model of ethics and science interaction. The concept of research ethics consultation develops.[5]

Full timeline

Year Event type Details Location
380 BC Field development The Republic of Plato advocates selective human breeding in anticipation of later programs of eugenics.[1]
1259 – 1265 Literature Italian philosopher Thomas Aquinas writes his Summa contra Gentiles, which briefly discusses the permissibility of abortion.[1] Italy
1588 "In 1588, Pope Sixtus V adopted a papal bull adopting the position of St. Thomas Aquinas that contraception and abortion were crimes against nature and sins against marriage. "[6]
1620 "Francis Bacon publishes The Novum Organon, in which he argues that scientific research should benefit humanity."[7]
1775 – 1780 Field development German philosopher Immanuel Kant in his lectures on ethics argues against the sale of human body parts.[1]
1796 "Edward Jenner inoculates eight-year-old James Phipps with fluid from a cowpox pustule to immunize him against smallpox."[8][9]
1847 The American Medical Association adopts its first code of ethics, with this being based in large part upon the work of Thomas Percival.[10] United States
1856 "Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace publish The Origin of Species, which proposes a theory of evolution of living things by natural selection. The book generates a great deal of controversy because it proposes that human beings were not created by God (as most religions claimed) but descended from apes"[11] United Kingdom
1874 "Robert Bartholomew inserts electrodes into a hole in the skull of Mary Rafferty caused by a tumor. He notes that small amounts electric current caused bodily movements and that larger amounts caused pain. Rafferty, who was mentally ill, fell into a coma and died a few days after the experiment."[12]
1885 "Louis Pasteur administers an experimental rabies vaccine to nine-year-old Joseph Meister without testing it on animals first."[13][14][15] France
1897 "Giuseppe Sanarelli injects the yellow fever bacteria into five patients without their consent. All the patients developed the disease and three died."[16][17][18] Italy
1900 "Walter Reed experiments to determine the cause of yellow fever. Thirty-three participants, including eighteen Americans and six Cubans, were exposed to mosquitoes infected with yellow fever or injected with blood from yellow fever patients. Six participants died, including two researcher-volunteers. The participants all signed consent forms, some of which were translated into Spanish."[19][20][21]
1920 Policy (reproductive rights) "Lenin legalized all abortions in the Soviet Union"[22][23]
1926 Literature German theologian Fritz Jahr, referring to European and Oriental traditions, publishes an article entitled Natural sciences and teaching ethics where he gives the subtitle “Old Knowledge in new clothes” describing the function of natural sciences for education and teaching biological research ethics.[4] Germany
1927 Literature Fritz Jahr publishes article using the German term “Bio-Ethik” (which translates as “Bio-Ethics”) and argues, both for the establishment of a new academic discipline, and for the practice of a new, more civilized, ethical approach to issues concerning human beings and the environment. Jahr would publish similar articles discussing bioethics in 1928, and 1934.[2] Germany
1931 Policy (reproductive rights) Mexico becomes the first country in the world to legalize abortion in cases of rape.[24] Mexico
1932 Literature The Linacre Quarterly[25] United States
1932 Tuskegee syphilis experiment.[26][27] United States
1932–1945 "Japanese scientists working at Unit 731 performed morally abominable experiments on thousands of Chinese prisoners or war, including biological and chemical weapons experiments, vaccination experiments, and wound-healing and surgical studies, including vivisections."[28]
1943–1944 Nazi human experimentation. "German scientists conducted morally abominable research on concentration camp prisoners, including experiments that exposed subjects to freezing temperatures, low air pressures, ionizing radiation and electricity, and infectious diseases; as well as wound-healing and surgical studies. " "The central leader of the experiments was Josef Mengele, who from 1943 to 1944 performed experiments on nearly 1,500 sets of imprisoned twins at Auschwitz. About 200 people survived these studies."[29]
1947 The Nuremberg Code is adopted as a set of research ethics principles for human experimentation. It is set as a result of the Subsequent Nuremberg trials at the end of the Second World War.[2] Germany
1948 Declaration of Geneva.[30][31] Switzerland
1948 "Alfred Kinsey publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Five years later, he publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. These books were very controversial, because they examined topics which were regarded as taboo at the time, such as masturbation, orgasm, intercourse, promiscuity, and sexual fantasies. Kinsey could not obtain public funding for the research, so he funded it privately through the Kinsey Institute."[32][33]
1954 Literature Joseph F. Fletcher publishes Morals and Medicine: The Moral Problems of the Patient’s Right to Know the Truth, Contraception, Artificial Insemination, Sterilization, and Euthanasia.[34][2]
1964 The Declaration of Helsinki is created in order to provide researchers and physicians with ethical guidelines. It is developed for the medical community by the World Medical Association.[2][35] Finland
1956–1980 "Saul Krugman, Joan Giles and other researchers conduct hepatitis experiments on mentally disabled children at The Willowbrook State School. They intentionally infected subjects with the disease and observed its natural progression. The experiments were approved by the New York Department of Health."[36][37]
1966 Organization The Schlesinger Institute for Medical-Halachic Research is founded.[38][39] Israel
1966 Organization The first medical ethics committees in Europe emerge in the United Kingdom and Sweden.[40] United Kingdom, Sweden
1966 Field development American anesthesiologist Henry K. Beecher publishes an article in The New England Journal of Medicine exposing 22 unethical studies in biomedicine, including the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and the Willowbrook hepatitis study.[41][42][43] United States
1969 Organization The Hastings Center is founded as a bioethics research institute. It is located in Garrison, New York.[44][45] United States
1970 Literature Paul Ramsey publishes The Patient as Person: Explorations in Medical Ethics.[46][2]
1970 Organization The Institute of Society, Ethics and the Life Sciences (later Hastings Center) is founded. A freestanding bioethics center, it is the first institution devoted to the study of bioethical questions.[3][47] United States
1970 Literature American biochemist Van Rensselaer Potter publishes his article Bioethics, the Science of Survival, which suggests viewing bioethics as a global movement in order to foster concern for the environment and ethics.[2][47]
1971 Literature Van Rensselaer Potter publishes book Bioethics: Bridge to the Future.[47] United States
1971 Concept development Georgetown University researcher Andre Hellegers uses the term bioethics to refer to interdisciplinary research moral problems of biomedicine, primarily associated with the need to protect the dignity and rights of patients.[4] United States
1971 Organization The Joseph and Rose Kennedy Center for the Study of Human Reproduction and Bioethics (now known as Kennedy Center) opens at Georgetown University. With similar goals to those of The Hastings Center, the Kennedy Institute is however placed inside the traditional academy.[3][47] Founded by Andre Hellegers, it is the first in the world to establish an institute of bioethics on the basis of interdisciplinary research and approaches.[4] United States
1972 Organization National Catholic Bioethics Center.[48][49][50] United States
1973 Concept development Dan Callahan writes essay Bioethics as a Discipline, whose title is the first entry of the word "bioethics" in the catalogue of the National Library of Congress.[47] In the article, Callahan argues for the establishment of a new academic discipline.[2] United States
1973 "After conducting hearings on unethical research involving human subjects, including the Tuskegee study, Congress passes the National Research Act in 1973, which President Nixon signs in 1974. The Act authorizes federal agencies (e.g. the NIH and FDA) to develop human research regulations. The regulations require institutions to form Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) to review and oversee research with human subjects."[51][52] United States
1975 Literature The Journal of Medical Ethics is launched.[53][54]
1975 Field development Peter Singer claims that human beings must consider the equal interests of human beings and animals alike.[2]
1975 Field development At a gathering at the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA, scientists discuss the benefits and risks of recombinant DNA research; the NIH forms the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee." "Scientists gather at Asilomar, California to discuss the benefits and risks of recombinant DNA experiments and agree upon a temporary moratorium for this research until they can develop biosafety standards. The NIH forms the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee to provide guidance for researchers and institutions. Research institutions form Institutional Biosafety Committees (IBCs) to review and oversee research involving hazardous biological materials." [41][55][56] United States
1978 Scientific development Louise Brown is born as the world's first test-tube baby.[41]
1978 "With its starting publication in 1978 (1st edition), the Encyclopedia of Bioethics became the first reference book to focus exclusively on the new and promising field of bioethics, helping to define the discipline"[57][4]
1978 "Louise Brown, the world’s first baby conceived by in vitro fertilization, is born in the U.K. She is currently alive and healthy."[58][59]
1979 "The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects in Biomedical and Behavioral Research publishes The Belmont Report: Principles of Ethical Research on Human Subjects. The Report provides the conceptual foundation for a major revision of the U.S. research regulations in 1981."[60][61]
1979 Literature IRB: Ethics & Human Research[62]
1979 Organization The Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences officially establishes its own private central ethical committee.[40] Switzerland
1979 Organization Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics[63][64] United States
1979 The Belmont Report is released by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. The Report becomes a key document in human research ethics regulations in the United States.[41][65] United States
1980 Policy In the Diamond v. Chakrabarty case the United States Supreme Court rules that a genetically modified bacterium can be patented because it is the product of human ingenuity. This sets a precedent for patents on other life forms and helps to establish solid intellectual property protection for the new biotechnology industry.[41] United States
1981 Organization Japan establishes its first ethics committee, at the Medical Institute of Tokyo University.[40] Japan
1981 Organization MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics[66][67] United States
1985 Literature Zhi-zheng Du's Outline of Medical Ethics is published in China as the first systematic textbook of medical ethics after the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.[68] China
1986 Literature Peer-reviewed academic journal Biology and Philosophy is launched.[69]
1987 Organization The European Society for Philosophy of Medicine and Health Care is founded by an international company of philosophers, physicians, ethicists and other interested professionals in the field.[70]
1987 Literature Ren-zong Qiu's Bioethics is published as the first bioethics book in China.[68] China
1987 Literature Bioethics.[71]
1988 Literature Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics is established.[72]
1988 Scientific development Harvard University and Dow Chemical Company patent a genetically engineered mouse used to study cancer.[73][74][75][41] United States
1988 Literature Zhao-xiong He's History of Chinese Medical Morality is published, providing material on medical ethics from ancient to current China.[68] China
1988 Literature Van Rensselaer Potter publishes Global bioethics.[4]
1989 Literature The United States National Academy of Sciences publishes On Being A Scientist, a free, short book on research ethics for scientists in training.[41] United States
1989 "The NAS publishes On Being A Scientist (revised in 1994 and 2009), which is a free, short book on research ethics for scientists in training."
1990 Legal Trends in Bioethics.[76]
1990 "The U.S. launches the Human Genome Project, a $20 billion effort to map and sequence the human genome."[77][78] United States
1990 "W. French Anderson begins the first human gene therapy clinical trial on patients with ADA deficiency, a genetic disease that affects the immune system."[79][80]
1991 Organization London-based Nuffield Council on Bioethics is established by the Nuffield Foundation to adress numerous bioethical issues in need of analysis.[81][82][83] United Kingdom
1991 Literature The Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal is launched.[84][85] United States
1992 "NAS publishes Responsible Science: Ensuring the Integrity of the Research Process. The book estimates the incidence of misconduct, discusses some of the causes of misconduct, proposes a definition of misconduct, and recommends some strategies for preventing misconduct."
1992 Literature Quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics is launched.[86]
1992 Literature The United States National Academy of Sciences publishes Responsible Science: Ensuring the Integrity of the Research Process. The book estimates the incidence of misconduct, discusses some of the causes of misconduct, proposes a definition of misconduct, and recommends some strategies for preventing misconduct.[41] United States
1992 Literature Peer-reviewed academic journal Environmental Values is established.[87][88] United Kingdom
1993 Scientific development Researchers successfully clone human embryos.[41]
1993 Organization The International Bioethics Committee is established by UNESCO to provide guidance on ethical and legal issues raised by research in medicine, biological sciences and associated technologies, and to reinforce knowledge in ethics.[89][90]
1993 Journal The Indian Journal of Medical Ethics is launched.[91] India
1994 The United States Government declassifies information about secret human radiation experiments conducted from the 1940s-1980s and issues an apology.[41] United States
1994 Literature American philosophers Tom Beauchamp and James Childress publish The principles of biomedical ethics, in which they state their basic principles of bioethics as "the principle of respect for patient autonomy, which has grounded, in particular, the concept of informed consent; dates back to the Hippocratic principle of “do no harm,” which requires minimization of damage to the patient during the medical intervention; the principle of “do good” (beneficence), emphasizing the physician’s responsibility to take positive steps to improve the condition of the patient; and the principle of justice, emphasizing the need for fairness and equal treatment of patients, and equitable distribution of resources (which are always limited) in the provision of medical care".[4] United States
1994 "Harvard psychologist Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray publish The Bell Curve, a controversial book that reignites the centuries old debate about biology, race and intelligence"[92]
1994 "Roger Poisson admits to fabricating and falsifying patient data in NIH-funded breast cancer clinical trials in order allow his patients to qualify for enrollment and have access to experimental treatments."[93][94]
1995 About 200 religious leaders join in Washington, DC., with leading biotechnology critic Jeremy Rifkin in a press conference named the "Joint Appeal against Human and Animal Patenting", protesting the patenting of plants, animals, and human body parts.[41][95][96] United States
1995 Organization The Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics is established.[97][98] United States
1995 Organization University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics[99] Canada
1995 Concept development American philosopher Daniel Callahan defines bioethics as a science “which is the product of biomedical achievements related to the environment and social sciences”.[4] United States
1996 "Scientists and defense analysts become concerned about the use of chemical or biological weapons by a terrorist group after Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese doomsday cult, releases sarin gas in a Tokyo subway, killing 12 people and sending 5,500 to hospitals. The group also attempted (unsuccessfully) to spray anthrax spores over Tokyo. In 1998, terrorism experts warn about the use of biological or chemical weapons by Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein."
1996 Scientific development Dolly is born as the first mammal ever to be cloned from another individual’s body cell. Her birth is announced in 1997, followed by several European nations banning human cloning. The United States Congress considers a bill to ban all human cloning but changes its mind after scientists argue that the bill would undermine biomedical research.[41][100][101] United Kingdom
1996 Organization The National Bioethics Advisory Commission is established.
1996 Literature (book) American philosopher David Abram publishes The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World. Abram coins the phrase "the more-than-human world" as a way of referring to earthly nature.
1996 Literature (book) American philosopher H. Tristram Engelhardt Jr. publishes The Foundation of Bioethics, in which he states “Moral diversity is real. It is real in fact and in principle. Bioethics and healthcare policy have yet to take this diversity seriously. Those who teach bioethics, those who engage in bioethics committees, even those who produced textbooks tend to discount the diversity of understanding regarding the morality of particular health care choices (e.g., regarding abortion, commercial surrogacy, euthanasia/ germline genetic engineering, inequalities in access to health care, infanticide, organ sales) or the nature of morality (e.g., theological, deontological, virtue-based)".[4] United States
1997 "On May 16, 1997, President Bill Clinton formally apologized on behalf of the United States to victims of the experiment" United States
1997 Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights
1998 "Scientists perfect methods for growing human embryonic stem cells. Some countries ban the research; others promote it."
1998 Literature (journal) Medicine Health Care and Philosophy is launched by the European Society For Philosophy Of Medicine And Healthcare.[70]
1998 Scientific development Methods for growing human embryonic stem cells are perfected. Some countries ban the research; others promote it.[41]
1998 Scientific development American biotechnologist Craig Venter forms Celera Genomics and begins a private effort to sequence the human genome, using dozens of automated sequencing machines.[41]
1999 Literature (journal) AMA Journal of Ethics is launched.[102] United States
1999 Literature The American Journal of Bioethics is launched.[103] United Sattes
1999 Organization Human Genetics Alert is founded in London.[104] It advocates against uses of reproductive technology and human genetics research that it considers harmful.[105]
1999 Policy The National Institutes of Health and the Office for Human Research Protections require all people conducting or overseeing human subjects research have some training in research ethics.[41] United States
1999 Literature Chinese bioethicist Lee Shui-chuen publishes Confucian Bioethics (in Chinese). China
1999 "The U.S. NIH and OHRP require all people conducting or overseeing human subjects research to have training in research ethics."
2000 Organization The Office for Human Research Protections is established.[106] United States
2001 Literature Peer-reviewed journal The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly is launched.[107] United States
2001 Field development The United States Congress starts debating legislation on human cloning.[41] United States
2001 Policy Several journals start requiring authors to describe their responsibilities when publishing research.[41]
2001 The United States Government announces that the National Institutes of Health will fund research on approximately 64 embryonic stem cell lines created from leftover human embryos.[41] United States
2001 "Congress debates legislation on human cloning."
2001 Organization The International Society for Stem Cell Research is established to promote the exchange and dissemination of information and ideas relating to stem cells.[108][109]
2001 Organization The President's Council on Bioethics is created by United States President George W. Bush to advice the President on bioethical issues that may emerge as a consequence of advances in biomedical science and technology.[110] United States
2001 Organization The Center for Genetics and Society is established.[111] United States
2001 "The Bush Administration announces that the NIH will only fund human embryonic stem cell research on approximately 64 cell lines created from leftover human embryos."[112][113]
2002 The President's Council on Bioethics recommends that the United States ban reproductive cloning and enact a moratorium on research cloning.[41] United States
2002 "Scientists publish several papers in prominent journals with direct implications for bioterrorism. A paper published in the Journal of Virology described a method for genetically engineering a form of mousepox virus that is much deadlier than the naturally occurring strain. A paper published in Science showed how to make the poliovirus by obtaining supplies from a mail-order company. A paper published in PNAS develop a mathematical model for showing how many people would be killed by infecting the U.S. milk supply with botulinum toxin."
2002 "The President's Council on Bioethics recommends that the U.S. ban reproductive cloning and enact a moratorium on research cloning."
2002 Organization The Toi Te Taiao: The Bioethics Council is established.[114][115] New Zealand
2003 " In 2003, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the National Academy of Sciences, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies held a meeting to discuss the censorship biological research that poses security risks. Journals agree to self-censor some research."[116][117]
2003 The United States invades Iraq with the stated purpose of eliminating its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs. So far, evidence of weapons programs but no actual weapons would be found.[41] Iraq
2003 The International Bioethics Committee issues a second global instrument, the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data, which may be regarded as an extension of the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights.[118][119]
2003 Organization The Regenerative Medicine Institute[120][121] Ireland
2004 Literature The Journal of Bioethical Inquiry is released by the University of Otago Bioethics Centre.[122] New Zealand
2004 Literature Medical ethicist James Hughes publishes Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future, which argues that technologies pushing the boundaries of humanness can radically improve our quality of life if they are controlled democratically.[123]
2004 Literature (book) Nicholas Agar publishes Liberal Eugenics: In Defence of Human Enhancement[124][125]
2005 Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights [126][127]
2005 "In response to recommendations from a National Research Council report titled “Biotechnology in the Age of Terrorism,” the Department of Health and Human Services establishes the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) to provide advice and guidance to federal agencies, scientists, and journals concerning oversight and public of research in biotechnology or biomedicine which can be readily applied to cause significant harm to public health, agriculture, the economy, or national security (i.e. “dual use” research)."[128]
2005 Literature American professor George Annas publishes American bioethics: crossing human rights and health law boundaries.[129] United States
2006 Literature Quarterly peer-reviewed scientific journal BioSocieties is released.[130]
2006 Literature Quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal Clinical Ethics is launched.[131] United States
2008 Literature The International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics is launched to encourage more work in feminist bioethics.[132][133]
2008 The Catholic Church publishes a document entitled Dignitas Personae, about a range of bioethical issues related to the areas of assisted reproduction and human genetics. The paper analizes and comments the bioethical thinking of the Catholic Church.[134][135][136]
2009 Organization Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues is established by United States President Barack Obama to advise the president and the administration on bioethical issues arising from advances in biomedicine and related areas of science and technology.[137] United States
2009 Organization The Bangladesh Bioethics Society is established.[138] Bangladesh
2009 Policy The Obama Administration announces it will significantly expand National Institutes of Health funding of human embryonic stem cell research which was restricted under the Bush Administration.[41][139] United States
2010 Literature (book) George Annas publishes Worst case bioethics: death, disaster, and public health.[140] United States
2010 Literature (book) Nicholas Agar publishes Humanity's End: Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement. The book argues against the doctrine of radical enhancement sometimes identified with the transhumanist movement.[141]
2011 Literature Triannual academic journal Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics is first issued.[142]
2012 Organization The Center for the Study of Bioethics is founded by Serbian American philosopher Vojin Rakić with the purpose to stimulate scientific debate on a variety of issues bioethics deals with. It is based in Belgrade, Serbia.[143]
2012 Literature The Canadian Journal of Bioethics is established.[144] Canada
2013 "In Association for Molecular Pathology et al. v. Myriad Genetics, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that isolated and purified DNA cannot be patented. Only DNA that has been modified by human beings can be patented. The ruling invalidates Myriad’s patents on BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and creates uncertainty concerning the legal validity of other types of patents on isolated and purified chemicals."[145]
2014 Various funding agencies and journals, including the National Institutes of Health, Science, and Nature, take steps to promote reproducibility in science in response to reports that many published studies in the biomedical, behavioral, and physical sciences are not reproducible.[41]
2015 Literature American bioethicist Alice Dreger publishes Galileo's Middle Finger, which discusses the ethics of medical research.[146] United States
2016 The United States National Institutes of Health places a temporary moratorium on funding for experiments involving human-animal chimeras.[147] United States
2018 "In October, He Jiankui, a scientist of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, announces the birth of the world’s first gene edited babies, both girls. He claims that he used CRISPR-Cas 9 technology to modify the CCR5 gene to give the girls immunity to HIV. The announcement generates outrage around the world and many scientists and policymakers call for a ban on human germline, genome editing." China

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