Institutions Of Bioethics
Since the early 1970s, as bioethics has gained legitimacy, there has been an increasing trend of bioethics centers becoming academic departments. Originally modeled on the structure of an independent "think tank," the bioethics centers of the early twenty-first century are often housed within either a medical school or school of arts and sciences, indistinguishable in structure from any other departments in those schools. The professionalization of bioethics has taken it from the academic margins to the center, and with this development has come all of the trappings of traditional academics, such as tenure, degree programs, professional conferences, and academic journals.
Beginning in the 1980s, medical schools began housing bioethics institutes either as departments of medical ethics or departments of medical humanities. Located within an undergraduate medical school, the duties of these departments include the ethics education of the M.D. students. Whereas the original bioethics centers had as their primary focus the production of scholarly research, departments of bioethics have pedagogical obligations and are viewed as institutions designed to serve the narrower educational mission of the school. Bio-ethics institutions that are instead housed within a school of arts and sciences have the same type of pedagogical obligations, though perhaps serving a different student population, namely, university undergraduates or graduate students. Departments of bioethics, depending on their configuration, offer traditional undergraduate or graduate courses, undergraduate majors or concentrations, graduate degrees (usually master's degrees), undergraduate medical school ethics training, and/or residency ethics training. By the early twenty-first century, there were more than sixty master of bioethics programs in the United States, attracting a diverse student population including recent undergraduates; students pursuing joint J.D., M.D., and Ph.D. degrees; and midcareer professionals from the fields of law, medicine, and public policy whose work requires specialty training in the field of bioethics.
Another result of the professionalization of bioethics was the pressure to publish in traditional scholarly venues, such as academic journals. But the formation of a new academic field of study necessitated the creation of academic journals in which to publish these novel scholarly works. Journals emerged that were designed solely for works in the field of bioethics, including the Hastings Center Report, the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, the American Journal of Bioethics, and Bioethics. But the mainstreaming of bioethics into the academy also opened up space within traditional medical and scientific journals for scholarly works in bioethics. Research in bioethics is now routinely published in the likes of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the New England Journal of Medicine, Science, and Nature.
Perhaps the institution most effectively used within the field of bioethics is the Internet. All major bioethics institutes, centers, and departments (and some journals) have elaborate Web sites, not only offering information about the specific institution, faculty, and degree programs, but also undertaking an educational mission to raise the level of public debate about current bioethical issues. These Web sites offer substantive information for individuals seeking to become better informed about these issues. One of the most developed Web sites is the companion site to the American Journal of Bioethics (www.bioethics.net). This Web site not only offers actual scholarly works in the field but also includes a high school bioethics project, job placement information, a "Bioethics for Beginners" section, and a collection of bioethics news stories from the popular press, updated daily, with direct links to the original news articles.