The Strengths and Limitations of Empirical Bioethics

23 June 2014

The past two decades have been witness to an "empirical turn" in bioethics. Whereas once this field of study concerned itself purely with theoretical analysis of ethical issues emerging in the design and delivery of health care, increasingly bioethics has embraced a range of empirical research methods from the social sciences and humanities. The emergence of "empirical bioethics" has, however, been the subject of enormous debate, both in regard to its methods and its purpose. For the most part these criticisms fail to appreciate the assumptions that underpin empirical bioethics or misrepresent the claims that are made about its moral utility. This article provides a brief account of the assumptions, strengths and limitations of empirical bioethics.