How Are Ethics Different From Bioethics?

By Tony Oldhand
Cheating in a golf game is an unethical activity.

The word "ethics" defines a code of behavior, and is an all-inclusive umbrella of moral codes. For a business, ethics defines a code of behaviors in corporate responsibility. Combining the words "biology" with "ethics" yields the word "bioethics." The ethics in biology deals with biological functions, or any form of ethics as it relates to biology. Ethics and bioethics are interrelated, working together in a hand-in-glove philosophy as opposed to being different schools of thought.

Venn Diagram Illustration

A Venn Diagram is a math logic device used to illustrate concepts. Draw a circle about three inches in diameter in the middle of a piece of paper. Inside the circle, draw a small circle about an inch in diameter. Write inside the large circle, but outside of the small circle, the word "ethics." Write inside the smaller circle "bioethics." You now have a visual illustration of the interrelationship between ethics and bioethics. Ethics is all inclusive, but bioethics is a subgroup that deals with ethics in the biology fields. The Protection of Conscience Project compares ethics and bioethics. Ethics is like the main trunk of a tree, and bioethics is a branch off the main trunk.

Ethics and Bioethics Interrelationship

Suppose a research company wants to perform painful experiments on an unwilling person. This is a violation of bioethics, according to Dr. David B. Resnik of the National Institute of Environmental Health Services. Bioethics are violated because a human being is a biological entity. In the next step, suppose the researchers attempt to bribe a government official to allow the experiment to continue. This is a violation of legal ethics, since bribing an official is against the law. In this case, both legal ethics and bioethics are interrelated, since two violations are occurring within the same group of researchers.

Ethics and Bioethics Divergence and Convergence

Sometimes ethics and bioethics are divergent and convergent. Suppose a researcher wants to run an experiment on the effects of alcohol consumption on a willing adult subject. A consenting adult consuming alcohol is not against the law, so no legal ethics violations are taking place. However, other researchers may question the validity or the ethics of the experiment. Furthermore, if the intoxicated subject is allowed to drive home after the experiment, both legal ethics and bioethics violations are taking place.

Defining Lines

Sometimes, the defining line is not crossed by ethics but crossed by bioethics. For example, all the base ingredients to make a highly addictive - and illegal - narcotic may be legal to buy at a grocery store, so no legal ethics violations are taking place. When the ingredients are combined in a clandestine lab to make the narcotic, a bioethics violation took place.

About the Author

Tony Oldhand has been technical writing since 1995. He has worked in the skilled trades and diversified into Human Services in 1998, working with the developmentally disabled. He is also heavily involved in auto restoration and in the do-it-yourself sector of craftsman trades. Oldhand has an associate degree in electronics and has studied management at the State University of New York.