Timeline of bioethics

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This is a timeline of bioethics, attempting to describe significant events related to the development of the field. Its subfield medical ethics is described with more detail on the Timeline of medical ethics.

Sample questions

The following are some interesting questions that can be answered by reading this timeline:

  • What are some notable events describing the development of the concept of bioethics?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Concept development".
  • What are some notable publications on the topic of bioethics?
    • For academic journals, sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Literature (journal)".
    • For books, sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Literature (book)".
  • What are some events describing notable controversial cases of bioethics in research?
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  • What are some notable organizations devoted to the topic of bioethics?
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  • What are some notable treaties concerning bioethics?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Treaty".
  • Other events are described under the following types: "Activism", "Genetic discrimination", "Genetic privacy", "Intellectual property".

Big picture

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] A wide range of new ethical problems emerge into view, all of them driven by spectacular advances in medicine and biology.[4]
1970s 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]
1980s Universities begin establishing human subjects review committees.[5] In the late decade, the Russian school of bioethics originates.[6]
1990s 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.[7]

Visual data

Google Trends

The image below shows Google Trends data for "bioethics" search term from January 1, 2004 to July 13, 2020, when the screenshot was taken. A declining interest is appreciated.[8]

Bioethics Google Trends.jpg

Wikipedia Views

The image below shows Wikipedia views for the article Bioethics for desktop, mobile-web, desktop-spider, mobile-web-spider and mobile app, from June 2015 to June 2020.[9]

Bioethics Wikipedia Views.png

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 (book) Italian philosopher Thomas Aquinas writes his Summa contra Gentiles, which briefly discusses the permissibility of abortion.[1] Italy
1620 Literature (book) English philosopher Francis Bacon publishes his Novum Organon, in which he argues that scientific research should benefit humanity.[10] United Kingdom
1830 Literature (book) English polymath Charles Babbage writes Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, which catalogs scientific misdeeds, and originates such terms as data trimming, data fudging, data falsification, and data cooking.[11]
1859 Literature (book) English naturalist Charles Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species, which proposes a theory of evolution of living things by natural selection. The book would generate much controversy because it proposes that human beings were not created by God (as most religions claimed) but descended from apes.[12] United Kingdom
1905 biopolitics "The term was coined by Rudolf Kjellén, a political scientist who also coined the term geopolitics,[13] in his 1905 two-volume work The Great Powers.[14]"
1926 Literature (article) 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.[6] Germany
1927 Concept development 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.[15] Mexico
1932 Literature (journal) Peer-reviewed academic journal The Linacre Quarterly is established.[16] United States
1938 Literature (book) "Morley Roberts, in his 1938 book Bio-politics argued that a correct model for world politics is "a loose association of cell and protozoa colonies".[17]
1947 Literature (essay) American ecologist Aldo Leopold publishes The Land Ethic, a chapter in A Sand County Almanac. Leopold argues that there is a critical need for a "new ethic," an "ethic dealing with human's relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it".[18] United States
1947 Policy The Nuremberg Code is adopted as a set of research ethics principles for human experimentation created as a result of the Nuremberg trials at the end of the Second World War. These principles are used as a set of research principles to be used to prosecute the Nazi scientists as war criminals.[19][20]
1948–1953 Literature (book) American biologist Alfred Kinsey publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Five years later, he publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. These books, known as the Kinsey Reports would become very controversial, because they examine topics which are regarded as taboo at the time, such as masturbation, orgasm, sexual intercourse, promiscuity, and {sexual fantasies.[21][22] United States
1965 Literature (journal) Peer-reviewed academic journal Science, Technology, & Human Values is founded.[23]
1966 Notable case (cryonics) The first human body –a middle-aged woman from Los Angeles, is frozen by being placed in liquid nitrogen and stored at just above freezing. However, the body would be later thawed out and buried by relatives.[24] United States
1967 Literature (journal) Peer-reviewed philosophical journal Journal of Value Inquiry is established. It focuses on value studies.[25]
1969 Organization The Hastings Center is founded as a bioethics research institute. It is located in Garrison, New York.[26][27] United States
1969 "In 1969, the UK and the Warsaw Pact, separately, introduced proposals to the UN to ban biological weapons, and US President Richard Nixon terminated production of biological weapons, allowing only scientific research for defensive measures."
1970 Literature Paul Ramsey publishes The Patient as Person: Explorations in Medical Ethics.[28][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][29] United States
1970 Literature (article) 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][29]
1970 Concept development English animal rights advocate Richard D. Ryder coins the term "speciesism" to describe the exclusion of nonhuman animals from the protections available to human beings.
1971 Literature (book) Van Rensselaer Potter publishes book Bioethics: Bridge to the Future.[29] United States
1971 Literature (journal) Peer-reviewed academic journal Hastings Center Report is first issued.[30]
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.[6] 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][29] 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.[6] United States
1972 Organization The National Catholic Bioethics Center is established. Based in Philadelphia, it states its mission as "promoting and safeguarding the dignity of the human person, thereby sharing in the ministry of Jesus Christ and his Church."[31].[32][33][34] United States
1973 Literature (article) 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.[29] In the article, Callahan argues for the establishment of a new academic discipline.[2] United States
1974 Policy The 93rd United States Congress enacts the National Research Act, which authorizes federal agencies to develop human research regulations.[35][36][37][38] United States
1975 Field development Australian moral philosopher 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 at Asilomar, California, scientists discuss the benefits and risks of recombinant DNA research. The Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee is formed by the National Institutes of Health to provide guidance for researchers and institutions. The Institutional Biosafety Committees (IBCs) is also formed to review and oversee research involving hazardous biological materials.[39][40][41] United States
1978 Literature (encyclopedia) The Encyclopedia of Bioethics launches its first edition, becoming the first reference book to focus exclusively on the field of bioethics.[42][6]
1978 Concept development "Biopower. Michel Foucault elaborates further in his lecture courses on biopower entitled Security, Territory, Population delivered at the Collège de France between January and April 1978:" France
1979 Biological agent use "in the largest biological weapons accident known—the anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg) in the Soviet Union in 1979—sheep became ill with anthrax as far as 200 kilometers from the release point of the organism from a military facility in the southeastern portion of the city and still off-limits to visitors today, (see Sverdlovsk Anthrax leak)."[43]
1980 Intellectual property 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.[39] United States
1980 Literature (journal) Peer-reviewed medical journal Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics is first issued.[44]
1982 Literature (book) William Broad and Nicholas Wade publish Betrayers of the Truth, which attempts to reveal much of the scientific misconduct that happens at this time.[45]
1986 Literature (journal) Peer-reviewed academic journal Biology and Philosophy is launched.[46]
1986 Literature (book) American philosopher Paul W. Taylor publishes Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics which discusses biocentrism. Taylor maintains that biocentrism is an "attitude of respect for nature", whereby one attempts to make an effort to live one's life in a way that respects the welfare and inherent worth of all living creatures.[47][48] United States
1987 Literature Ren-zong Qiu's Bioethics is published as the first bioethics book in China.[49] China
1987 Literature (journal) Peer-reviewed academic journal Bioethics is launched.[50]
1988 Literature (journal) The Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics is established.[51]
1988 Notable case Harvard University and Dow Chemical Company patent a genetically engineered mouse used to study cancer. This invention would become highly controversial as it involves the genetic manipulation of animals, particularly mammals.[52][53][54][39] United States
1988 Literature (book) Van Rensselaer Potter publishes Global bioethics.[6]
1989 Literature (book) The United States National Academy of Sciences publishes On Being A Scientist, a free, short book on research ethics for scientists in training.[39][55][56][57] United States
1990 Literature (column) American medical ethicist Sigrid Fry-Revere starts the column Legal Trends in Bioethics for the Journal of Clinical Ethics.[58] The column "tracks bioethics related issues through all stages of litigation, legislation, and regulation at both the federal and state levels, as well as occasionally mentioning exceptional legal developments in other countries."[59]
1990 Notable case The Human Genome Project is launched by the United States as a US$20 billion effort to map and sequence the human genome.[60][61] United States
1991 Organization London-based Nuffield Council on Bioethics is established by the Nuffield Foundation to adress numerous bioethical issues in need of analysis.[62][63][64] United Kingdom
1991 Literature (journal) The Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal is launched.[65][66] United States
1992 Literature (journal) Quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics is launched.[67]
1992 Literature (book) 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.[39][68][69] United States
1992 Literature (journal) Peer-reviewed academic journal Environmental Values is established.[70][71] United Kingdom
1992 Organization The United States Office of Research Integrity is formed. It focuses on research integrity.[72] United States
1993 Notable case Researchers successfully clone human embryos.[39]
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.[73][74]
1994 Literature (book) American psychologist Richard Herrnstein and American political scientist Charles Murray publish The Bell Curve, a controversial book that reignites the centuries old debate about biology, race and intelligence"[75] United States
1995 Activism 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.[39][76][77] United States
1995 Organization The Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics is established.[78][79] United States
1995 Organization The University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics is established.[80] 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”.[6] United States
1995 Notable case The Tokyo subway sarin attack is perpetrated. This would further increase concern among scientists and defense analysts about the use of chemical or biological weapons.[81] Japan
1995 Literature (journal) Quarterly peer-reviewed scientific journal Science and Engineering Ethics is first issued.[82]
1996 Notable case Dolly is born as the first mammal ever to be cloned from another individual’s body cell. Her birth would be announced in 1997, followed by several European nations banning human cloning. The United States Congress would consider a bill to ban all human cloning but changes its mind after scientists argue that the bill would undermine biomedical research.[39][83][84] United Kingdom
1996 Organization The National Bioethics Advisory Commission is established.[85][86]
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.[87]
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)".[6] United States
1997 Organization The Committee On Publication Ethics is established in the United Kingdom, consisting in academic journal editors and others who are concerned about the integrity of what is peer-reviewed and published in journals.[88][89] United Kingdom
1997 Concept development The term "wisdom of repugnance" is coined by American physician Leon Kass in an article in The New Republic. Kass states that disgust is not an argument per se, but says that "in crucial cases... repugnance is the emotional expression of deep wisdom, beyond reason's power fully to articulate."[90] United States
1998 Notable case/policy As scientists perfect methods for growing human embryonic stem cells, some countries ban the research, while others promote it.[91][92][93]
1998 Notable case Methods for growing human embryonic stem cells are perfected. Some countries ban the research; others promote it.[39]
1998 Notable case American biotechnologist Craig Venter forms Celera Genomics and begins a private effort to sequence the human genome, using dozens of automated sequencing machines.[39]
1998 Literature (journal) Peer-reviewed academic journal Ethical Theory and Moral Practice is first issued.[94]
1999 Literature (journal) AMA Journal of Ethics is launched.[95] United States
1999 Literature (journal) The American Journal of Bioethics is launched.[96] United Sattes
1999 Literature (book) Chinese bioethicist Lee Shui-chuen publishes Confucian Bioethics (in Chinese).[97][98][99] China
2001 Literature (journal) Peer-reviewed journal The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly is launched.[100] United States
2001 Policy Several journals start requiring authors to describe their responsibilities when publishing research.[39]
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.[101][102]
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.[103] United States
2001 Organization The Center for Genetics and Society is established.[104] United States
2002 Policy The President's Council on Bioethics recommends that the United States ban reproductive cloning and enact a moratorium on research cloning.[39][105][106][107] United States
2002 Concept development "The first detailed exploration of Earth jurisprudence in print and the introduction of the term ‘Great Jurisprudence’ occurred with the first publication of Wild Law by Cormac Cullinan, launched at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Cape Town 2002." South Africa
2002 Literature (journal) Researchers publish several papers in prominent journals with direct implications for bioterrorism, some described methods include one for genetically engineering a form of mousepox virus that is much deadlier than the naturally occurring strain. Another shows how to make the poliovirus by obtaining supplies from a mail-order company. Another study develops a mathematical model for showing how many people would be killed by infecting the United States milk supply with botulinum toxin.[108]
2002 Organization The Toi Te Taiao: The Bioethics Council is established. Its goal is: "To enhance New Zealand's understanding of the cultural, ethical and spiritual aspects of biotechnology and ensure that the use of biotechnology has regard for the values held by New Zealanders." [109][110] New Zealand
2003 Policy The American Society for Microbiology, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies hold a meeting to discuss the censorship biological research that poses security risks. Self-censorship of some research is also agreed by journals.[111][112]
2003 Notable case 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.[39] Iraq
2003 Treaty 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.[113][114]
2004 Literature (journal) The Journal of Bioethical Inquiry is released by the University of Otago Bioethics Centre.[115] New Zealand
2004 Literature (book) American bioethicist James Hughes publishes Citizen Cyborg, a non-fiction book which articulates democratic transhumanism as a socio-political ideology and program.[116] United States
2004 Literature (book) "In his 2002 book Our Posthuman Future and in a 2004 Foreign Policy magazine article, political economist and philosopher Francis Fukuyama designates transhumanism as the world's most dangerous idea because he believes that it may undermine the egalitarian ideals of democracy (in general) and liberal democracy (in particular) through a fundamental alteration of "human nature"."[117]
2005 Treaty The Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights is adopted by UNESCO.[118][119]
2005 Organization The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity is established by the United States Department of Health and Human Services "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".[120] United States
2005 Literature (book) American professor George Annas publishes American bioethics: crossing human rights and health law boundaries.[121] United States
2006 Literature (journal) Quarterly peer-reviewed scientific journal BioSocieties is released.[122]
2008 Literature (journal) The International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics is launched to encourage more work in feminist bioethics.[123][124]
2008 Genetic discrimination The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) is passed on May 21 in the United States, making genetic discrimination illegal in the country.[125] United States
2008 Bioethics Bowl
2008 Organization Center for bioethics and medical humanities United States
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.[126] United States
2009 Organization The Bangladesh Bioethics Society is established.[127] Bangladesh
2010 Literature (book) George Annas publishes Worst case bioethics: death, disaster, and public health.[128] United States
2011 Literature (journal) Triannual academic journal Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics is first issued.[129]
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.[130]
2012 Literature (journal) The Canadian Journal of Bioethics is established.[131] Canada
2013 Notable case (genetic privacy) Israeli-American scientist Yaniv Erlich conducts a study revealing vulnerabilities in the security of public databases that contain genetic data. The stury reports a method to discover the identity of anonymous research subjects whose genomes have been sequenced as part of a genomics project.[132]
2013 Policy The Supreme Court of the United States rules that isolated and purified DNA cannot be patented and that only DNA that has been modified by human beings can be patented.[133] United States
2014 Policy 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.[39]
2014 Policy New Mexico Second District Judge Nan Nash rules that terminally ill patients have the right to aid in dying under the state constitution, i.e., making it legal for a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to a terminally ill patient.[134] United States
2015 Literature American bioethicist Alice Dreger publishes Galileo's Middle Finger, which discusses the ethics of medical research.[135] United States
2016 Notable case (cryonics) The English High Court rules in favor of a mother's right to seek cryopreservation of her terminally ill 14-year-old daughter, as the girl wanted. This case is interpreted as a conventional dispute over the disposal of the girl's body, as the girl's father opposed cryopreservation.[136] United Kingdom

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External links


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