Bioethics in a Sociology Textbook

To some students and faculty, it might seem odd to include a chapter on bioethics in a sociology textbook. Yet the issues raised by bioethics are sociological ones because many revolve around the impact of power differences among social groups (most often between physicians and patients). Even when exploring the same issues, however, bioethicists and sociologists use different lenses. Robert Zussman, a sociologist who has studied bioethics extensively, succinctly summarizes the difference:

Medical ethics may be thought of as the normative study of high principles for the purpose of guiding clinical decisions. In contrast, the sociology of medical ethics may be thought of as the empirical study of clinical decisions for the purpose of understanding the social structure of medicine. Clearly then, medical ethicists and sociologists of medical ethics travel much of the same terrain, but they do so traveling in different directions.

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