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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.

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.

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 in Healthcare.

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.

History of Bioethics at Wits

For several years prior to 2000, Professor Trefor Jenkins and Dr. Graeme McLean taught bioethics in the Faculty of Health Sciences. In 2000, the faculty established the Discipline of Bioethics headed by Associate Professor Udo Schuklenk. Udo moved to the UK in 2005, and in 2006 Professor Ames Dhai replaced him as head of discipline.

The Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics as we know it today was inaugurated on February 8th 2007.