The Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics

What is Bioethics?
Medical ethics traces its roots to several early ethical codes, the most famous of which is the Hippocratic Oath. Its primary concern was prescribing the ethics of the doctor-patient relationship.

Modern Bioethics began about fifteen years post World War Two in an attempt to 'humanise' medical education and practise. Medicine was considered a profession overly focused on scientific and technological advancements requiring specialized skills. As such, its 'caring' nature seemed to have lapsed. Bioethics aimed to reinstate this care by infusing human virtues and the humanities into health sciences.

Today, the field of inquiry of bioethics has moved on to assume much broader proportions. Bioethics is about health, and thus it is also about life and death. It is about our bodies, procreation and birth, suffering and well-being. Importantly, it considers who controls decisions about our health and to what extent such control (if any) is morally justifiable.

Bioethics is the study of morality by careful and systematic reflection on, and analysis of, moral decisions and behavior in the life-sciences. There is a special emphasis on justice and fairness, sensitivity and empathy, which addresses the human fears and concerns often experienced by patients.

Prominent issues facing bioethicists include those related to genetics, theories of human development, assisted reproductive technologies, dual loyalties, euthanasia and resource allocation in healthcare management.

The Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics

The Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics is a university-based centre committed to the values of justice, dignity, respect and freedom - both intellectual and academic. The Centre is a Faculty centre situated in the School of Clinical Medicine.

Staff at the centre boast a wide range of expertise in ethics and they are deeply committed to furthering the discipline of bioethics in South Africa and internationally. Centre staff take pride in advising and consulting for policy makers at national and provincial level, as well as in programmes like Good Clinical Practise - and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

At national policy level, Centre staff provide advice and consultation in bioethics, human rights and health law for health sciences curricula, regulation, development and ethics in research for the country.

At an international level, centre staff contribute to programmes in UNESCO, the European Commission and The National Institutes of Health (US) to name but a few. Centre staff also contribute to the development of bioethics and research ethics capacity on the different African regions.

The Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics contributes to excellence in bioethics by:

  • Developing national and international research programs,
  • Ongoing curriculum development and teaching,
  • Collaborating with other developing and developed world-based bioethicists on training and research projects,
  • Advising health providers on policy matters, including resource allocation, rationing of health care services and monitoring standards of care for the ethical practice of the caring professions including medicine, dentistry, nursing, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and pharmacy,
  • Providing an ethics consultation service at hospitals and clinics within the academic hospitals as well as the primary health care settings,
  • Providing NGOs and other community groups with health care ethics advice and
  • Community outreach as a social responsibility

Five Year Highlights:
2007 - 2012

Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics 

Download the 5 Year Highlights


Download the 2013 Centre Report


Call for abstracts

Special edition of SAJBL:Ethical legal and social issues (ELSI) related to stemcell research and therapy in South Africa

28 November 2014: deadline for submission of abstracts

February 2015: deadline for submission of manuscripts

July 2015: publication of the SAJBL special edition

Click here for more information.


South African Unit of the UNESCO International Network in Bioethics

World Medical Association Cooperating Centre

The Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics is one 5 World Medical Association Cooperating Centres, and the first WMA Cooperating Centre in Africa