A Guide to Doing Research in Bioethics
Friendly link to this page: http://bioethics.iu.edu/subjectguide
The study of bioethics issues (including medical ethics and research ethics) requires the use of a broad ranch of specialized and interdisciplinary information resources. This subject guide provides brief annotations of basic bioethics information sources. If you are new to the field of bioethics, this is a good place to begin your online research.
The resources below emphasize items available (at no cost) to the public. If you are looking for resources on a specific ethical issue, be sure to visit our Bioethics Reference Center for a list of our subject guides and information portals.
In addition to the resources described here, Indiana University faculty, staff and students have access to the subscription databases, electronic journals and books in the IU libraries. For a guide to using these resources, visit the Medical Libraries page Bioethics Selected Resources.
Resources from the Reference Center for selecting the right tools and employing successful strategies for finding the information that you need.
Jere Odell. Searching for Bioethics Literature? Tips for Building a Search Strategy. September 29, 2010.
Jere Odell. Search Tools for Bioethics Literature: Preferred information resources by type. January 25, 2011.
Jere Odell. Finding what you need? Information resources for international research ethics. TaSkR III. Indianapolis, Indiana. April 13, 2011.
Jere Odell. Open access and international research ethics: finding what you need? TaSkR V. Indianapolis, Indiana. April 18, 2013.
Other resources for research help:
Note: This is a guide to free online databases that contain information about bioethics journals, articles, and other resources. Be sure to check your local library's subscriptions databases. To find databases at Indiana University libraries, consult the Medical Libraries Bioethics Subject Guide: Databases.
A new, one-stop searching resource and freely available on the Web for ethics research, this site searches PubMed (described below) and many journals and news items that are indexed elsewhere.
ETHXWeb is a bibliographic database maintained by the National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature (NRCBL), described below. The database is freely available for anyone with internet access. To search the books, articles (including journals that are not indexed in Medline), news items, and reports, use the Basic, Advanced or Boolean search options. NRCBL also provides quick links to ready-made searches on several hot-topics in bioethics, including: Advance Directives, Bioethics History, Brain Death, Cloning, Eugenics, Genetic Research, Neuroethics, Reproductive Technologies, Stem Cell Research, and others.
Globethics.net is an international digital library of applied ethics resources. After registering, users have full text access to many electronic resources that address medical and research ethics issues. The collection currently indexes 1.5 million items, including 200 licensed electronic journals. This digital library is committed to providing ethics research resources to individuals in "developing and transition countries".
PubMed (a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health) provides free online access to the Medline database, covering over 18 million citations from 1948 to the present. Although full text access to the journals indexed in this database will depend upon your institution's subscriptions (use your library's portal; PubMed at IUSM), search results can be limited to records with links to free full text. To find articles that address bioethics issues, try limiting your search by selecting "bioethics" in the Topics menu or combine your search with bioethics[sb]. For other broad searches try:
- Advance Care Planning
- Codes of Ethics
- Conflict of Interest
- Ethical Review
- Ethics, Clinical
- Ethics Committees
- Ethics, Research
- Informed Consent
- Personal Autonomy
- Professional Misconduct
- Social Justice
Ethics in Medicine
Developed as a training tool and educational resource for the University of Washington School of Medicine, Ethics in Medicine provides free access to brief overviews of topics in medical ethics, subject guides with links to others resources, several case studies, and a succinct introduction to principle-based ethics.
The Hastings Center Bioethics Briefing Book
From Birth to Death and Bench to Clinic: The Hastings Center Bioethics Briefing Book for Journalists, Policymakers, and Campaigns, a free, online book, provides 36 entries on topics in bioethics. Entries include bibliographies and links to other resources.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
This free, online encyclopedia covers a wide range of topics and authors in philosophy. While the majority of these will not be of interest to most bioethics readers, the encyclopedia includes many entries on ethics and a growing list of articles on medical ethics and the ethics of biomedical research.
As the body of knowledge and understanding in the field of bioethics grows it becomes more difficult to gain access to primary sources and "gray" literature in digital format which eleviates geographic limitations of access. The Bioethics Digital Library (BEDL) provides open and free online access to all of its digital content.
The value of BEDL lies in its capacity to acquire content, to make it available in digital format, and to archive and preserve it for future use. Content includes, but is not limited to: out of print books that are now regarded as "classic texts" in bioethics and humanities; court decisions and legislation; government documents; the "gray" literature (unpublished, but authoritative professional literature such as conference abstracts, presented papers, commission meeting minutes); full text of journal articles; and both audio and visual materials. The scope includes both domestic and international content.
Search the Bioethics Digital Library by keyword or advanced search [select "Bioethics Digital Library"].
Browse the Bioethics Digital Library by topic:
Other Web Directories and Subject Resources
This site is associated with the The American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB). Although AJOB requires a subscription, bioethics.net provides free access to some items from the journal, a job board, a blog about news stories, and a bioethics portal with links to resources indexed by topic.
Bioethics Information Resources (NLM)
This portal provides a search window for literature in the PubMed Medline database limited to the bioethics subject subset. Also see the links to topics indexed on the NLM's consumer health information Web site, MedlinePlus. These are often good beginner's introductions to the science, the social and the ethical issues in contemporary medicine. See, for example:
- Advance Directives
- Clinical Trials
- End of Life Issues
- Genetic Testing
- Health Fraud
- Organ Donation
- Patient Rights
- Stem Cells
Bioethics Resources on the Web (NIH)
This large, annotated index of bioethics resources may be keyword searched, but is also organized by topics. Although many of the links have expired, this is an excellent starting place for finding quality bioethics information.
Funded, in part, by the Wellcome Trust, Intute provides a free directory of Web resources that have been selected and evaluated by subject specialists. The BioethicsWeb portal provides a searchable and browse-able index of resources relevant to bioethics and medical ethics. Also see the medical history gateway, MedHist, and the gateway to resources on public engagment and science communication, psic-com.
Edited by Lawrence M. Hinman at the University of San Diego, this site provides case studies, videos, and other resources for students and instructors. Although broadly focused on practical and applied ethics, many of the resources are relevant to bioethical issues.
Note: The academic sites annotated below provide useful, free resources for bioethics research. If, however, you are looking for an index of academic bioethics centers, try one of these:
- Academic Centers and Programs from Bioethics Resources on the Web - National Institutes of Health
- Bioethics Centers and Institutions from bioethics.net
- Global Ethics Observatory (GEObs) - Database 2: Ethics Institutions from UNESCO Social and Human Sciences - Ethics
- The International Bioethics Organizations Database (mentioned below) from NRCBL
The Hastings Center (a bioethics research institute) publishes two widely read bioethics journals (subscriptions required, with some free content) The Hastings Center Report and IRB: Ethics & Human Research. In addition to these subscription-only resources, the Center provides free access to its Bioethics Briefing Book (a 36 chapter overview of many ethical issues and topics, including assisted reproduction, end of life issues, enhancement, and stem cells). Also see the blog, Bioethics Forum, and the free Special Reports.
Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics
In addition to electronic newsletters, The Berman Institute Media Center provides online access to audio, video, and slide shows from several lectures on ethics topics. Also, see links to various research projects and programs and their associated guides to topics, including: genetics, stem cells, and neuroethics.
The National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature (NRCBL)
The library service of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics (KIE) at Georgetown University, NRCBL maintains the "world's largest collection" of material on the bioethics issues. NRCBL's online services include custom literature searches by email and access to databases:
- ETHXWeb - the NRCBL collection
- GenETHX - literature on the ethics of genetics
- International Bioethics Organizations Database
- Syllabus Exchange Database - syllabi from high school, college, and graduate bioethics courses
Also see the NRCBL's Bibliographies, which include: QuickBibs (a way to keyword browse the recent additions to the NRCBL databases), Scope Notes (47 comprehensive bibliographies of various ethical issues) and bibliographies created for special courses and events.
The NRCBL also maintains the National Information Resource on Ethcis & Human Genetics and edits the Bioethics Subset (a subject search strategy) for the PubMed database.
University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics
This center provides free PDF downloads from its Summaries and Overviews page. Summaries are brief descriptions of common bioethics topics (including, for example: Advance Directives, Chimeras, and Research on Animals). Overviews offer an "in-depth" assessment of bioethics topics and extensive bibliographies. Currently, the following overviews are available:
- End of Life Care: An Ethical Overview
- Distributing Limited Healthcare Resources
- Ethics of Organ Transplantation
- Human Stem Cells: An Ethical Overview
- New Frontiers in Genetic Testing & Screening
- Research Ethics
- Resuscitation Decisions
University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics
Although the Center's website does not provide direct links to resources, many of the articles written by its faculty are available in the institutional repository: ScholarlyCommons@Penn - Bioethics. Papers can be browsed by date or searched by keyword. Also see the Center's subject specific websites, the following include topical overviews and bibliographies:
Note: The organizations below are provide useful, free resources for bioethics research. For a more complete list of bioethics organizations try one fo the following:
- International Bioethics Organizations Database from NRCBL
- International Organizations from Bioethics Resources on the Web, NIH
- Global Ethics Observatory, Database 2: Ethics Institutions from UNESCO
American Medical Association (AMA) Ethics Group
The activities of the AMA Ethics Group include:
- Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) – develops reports and policies which eventually become the basis for revisions to the AMA's Code of Medical Ethics.
- Ethics Resource Center - provides educational tools, ethics news, and a useful repository of speciality medical association codes, see Federation Repository of Ethics Documents Online (FRED).
- Institute for Ethics – conducts ethics research and training; including: the Ethical Force Progam; a list of recent and ongoing research projects; and fellowship opportunities.
Also see the AMA's Policy Finder (which includes, among other relevant policies, the Current Opinions of the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs) and the AMA's Virtual Mentor (an online journal of medical ethics with a long list of cases, polls and other resources).
American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH)
Although providing only a few resources, ASBH is an important association in the field of bioethics. The site provides information about recent and upcoming conferences, links to academic centers and journals, and an online job list. The association also publishes a useful, free guide to publishing bioethics articles: Publishing Without Perishing: A Handbook for Graduate and Professional Students on Publishing in Bioethics and the Medical Humanities [PDF - 259 KB].
The American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics (ASLME)
ASLME publishes the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics (subscription required | PubMed Search: "J Law Med Ethics"[Journal]). Free resources on the site currently include many items relevant to DNA Fingerprinting and Civil Liberties and a links to a project on pain and the law.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Science and Public Policy Programs (SPP).
AAAS SPP includes a variety of programs that address the ethical, legal and social issues of science and research. Some of these programs publish reports and provide online guides to resources. See: AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, AAAS Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law Program (SFRL), and AAAS Science and Human Rights Program.
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics
Funded by The Nuffield Foundation, the Medical Research Council and The Wellcome Trust, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics forms working groups to address and anticipate the ethical issues resulting from the development of new medical technologies and research methods. The Council provides free access to electronic versions of many of its publications. Recent work groups have addressed:
- Public health
- The forensic use of bioinformation
- Critical care decisions in fetal and neonatal medicine
- Genetic screening
- The ethics of research involving animals
For these and others, see the complete list of the Council's publications.
PRIM&R - Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research
An organization for individuals working on institutional review boards and other ethical and regulatory programs, PRIM&R provides a few, free, online resources and many more items restricted to PRIM&R members. Free resources in the Resource Center include: abstracts from recent conferences; a list of articles (a few with links to full text); a white paper on biobanking; a job board; and a list of "Useful Links" covering the topics of:
- Animal Subjects
- Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight Committees (ESCROs) and Genetics
- Human Subjects
- International Research Ethics
- Research Ethics
Also see PRIM&R's blog Ampersand for relevant news and discussions about research ethics and regulation.
The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues
In addition to transcripts of its meetings, the Commission provides links to electronic versions of all of its recent reports. The site also provides links to archived reports from prior bioethics commissions. Topics addressed by the current Commission include:
The Project for Scholarly Integrity (PSI)
An initiative of the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), PSI promotes and facilitates responsible conduct of research and research ethics education. Supported by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), PSI hosts a long list of online resources on scientific misconduct and research integrity. Browse the list by topic or use the search function. This online resource guide includes content originally hosted by The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), AAAS-National Academies Compilation of Resources on Scientific Misconduct and Research Integrity.
UNESCO Social and Human Sciences: Ethics
The UNESCO SHS Ethics portal is organized by theme. Select Bioethics and Publications for a broad list of relevant publications available to download. Also see UNESCO’s international standards and declarations, including: Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights (1997), International Declaration on Human Genetic Data (2003), and Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights (2005).
The World Medical Association (WMA)
In addition to the Helsinki Declaration, the WMA publishes an ethics manual, a handbook of WMA policy declarations (browse alphabetically or by topic), The World Medical Journal, and other outcomes of its international focus on ethics and human rights.
The World Health Organization (WHO)
Although many WHO programs publish resources and data relevant to the ethical issues in world health and international research, browse the four teams for the program for Ethics, Trade, Human Rights and Health Law (ETH):
Alternatively, to keyword search all WHO publications, select the "Search WHO publications" option on the Advanced Search page.