Biomedical ethics, or bioethics, is a specialized branch of ethics that concerns itself with human behavior within the context of modern medicine. In recent years, modern science has provided humankind with an amazing number of new treatment options. Human cloning, in vitro fertilization, stem cell research, and some forms of organ transplantation once made good topics for science fiction novels but were not considered realistic. Today, however, organ transplantation and in vitro fertilization are commonplace. Stem cell research, though still controversial, is currently underway.
Animal cloning is currently being done in a limited way. Human cloning, though not common practice, is the subject of much debate. It seems only a matter of time before some form of human cloning takes place, authorized or otherwise.

The topics of abortion and euthanasia are not new. Yet our struggle to understand and agree upon standards for human conduct are exemplified by continuous debate on both issues. In addition to these controversial topics are the more common, yet equally difficult, situations that patients and families face on a daily basis. The explosion of medical research has necessarily compounded the complexity of decision making required of patients and family members. In many situations, the “right” choice is not readily apparent, leaving everyone to agonize and, perhaps, disagree about what ought to be done in any given situation.

The number and variety of situations that confront health care providers are infinite. Therefore, it is not possible to predict them or to explain what ought to be done in each and every case. So what are health care workers to do? At worst, they can keep their heads in the sand, refusing to discuss and deal with these difficult and painful topics. Doing so tends to result in responses dictated by fear and prejudice when touchy topics arise and difficult decisions must be made, which is not helpful to anyone. A far better plan is for health care workers to become educated and prepared with information and tools that can help them navigate these difficult waters and provide better guidance to their patients. These tools include an understanding of key ethical principles, ethical philosophies, and a thoughtful plan for responding to ethical dilemmas when they arise.