The importance of bioethics in the training of health professionals

By: Dr. Salvador Mut, Director of the Official Online Master in Bioethics

Since the term was first coined at the beginning of the 70s of the last century Bioethics (Potter, 1971) until today its evolution and presence in health studies has been increasing. The main reason for this has been the development of medical techniques (advances in organ transplants, assisted reproductive techniques, treatments in ICUs …) and the need to question which behaviors are acceptable and which are not.

Bioethics is not a science, since depending on what type of principles are applied to the analysis and control of biomedical techniques we can have a secular bioethics, or adapted to a religion (Christian, Muslim or Jewish), or utilitarian. But bioethics does not have the character of a doctrinal body either, it is rather a collection of principles (of a theoretical nature) and rules (of a practical nature) that serve as a guide to face behavior in the face of real day-to-day situations in clinical practice.

Although the concept of bioethics as such is recent, as we have already seen, ethical principles have been present in medicine from the beginning, it is enough to remember the call "Corpus Hipocraticum" containing the well-known Hippocratic Oath that has governed the ethical behavior of the medical profession.

No> Nuremberg Code, the Geneva Declaration on the principles of ethical morality, the Declaration of human rights, the Helsinki Declaration on ethical principles in medical research on human beings (1964) and the Belmont report on which all bioethics is based current.

All this evolution of bioethics has been reflected in medical studies (and other health professions). Back in the 19th century, medical studies in Spain contain some subject that includes the concept "moral" almost always in conjunction with other concepts such as medical philosophy, the history of medicine, or the medical literature. In these subjects, a classical, paternalistic ethic was explained, based on charity and professional practice based on virtues. The situation remained unchanged until the middle of the 20th century.

From the 70s and 80s of the 20th century, Spanish universities begin to incorporate subjects related to bioethics with a wide variety of criteria and meanings. Today the curricula of most universities in Spain bioethics is a compulsory subject. All this leads us to highlight the need for all health professionals to be adequately trained in bioethics.

It is> a more ethical than medical character and that involve many aspects of professional healthcare practice.

What treatment to apply? What to choose, greater quantity of life or better quality of life? But not only that, can biology be manipulated based on personal interests and not medical necessity? Or something that medical professionals have experienced in the middle of this pandemic, How should health resources be distributed when they are scarce? What criteria should be used in triage of patients?

These are complex questions that undoubtedly require a solid ethical foundation.