Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Case for Integrating the Environment into the Definition of Bioethics


A profession’s definition of a concept is a powerful act that illuminates key aspects, while leaving discarded notions in the dark. In 1971, Van Rensselaer Potter first coined the term “bioethics” to advocate for the exploration of medical science and values with the goal of protecting life on earth. But, in the years since, bioethics became solely focused on issues in medicine and health care without recognizing their broader links to the environment. This Note argues that it is shortsighted to view bioethics as divorced from the world outside hospital doors. It further argues that an expanded conceptual model of bioethics is necessary in light of the complexities of contemporary society. Bioethical analysis will be inadequate if the narrow scope of the current definition of bioethics remains unchallenged. If Potter’s broader view of bioethics were embraced, bioethical work would include examination of the moral and legal foundations for human health and environmental protection policies. Bioethical analysis could then invite debate on topics like land use and pollution control policies, for example, and not merely on patient care issues within the health care system.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View