November 27, 2022

Who really invented bioethics?

Who invented bioethics? The textbooks say that there are two contenders, both Americans: Van Rensselaer Potter, an oncologist, and Sargent Shriver, a benefactor of the Kennedy Institute. They independently coined the term in 1970. However, it appears that they were trumped by a German pastor and philosopher, Fritz Jahr, by decades

Who invented bioethics? The textbooks say
that there are two contenders, both Americans: Van Rensselaer Potter, an
oncologist, and Sargent Shriver, a benefactor of the Kennedy Institute. They
independently coined the term in 1970. However, it appears that they
were trumped by a German pastor and philosopher, Fritz Jahr
, by decades. In
1927 Jahr published an article entitled “Bio-Ethics: A Review of the Ethical Relationships
of Humans to Animals and Plants” in the German magazine Kosmos. He wanted to
extend Kant’s categorical imperative to all forms of life, not just humans. He
wrote: “So that the rule for our actions may be the bio-ethical demand: Respect
every living being on principle as a goal in itself and treat it, if possible,
as such!”

A group of European academics recently
launched a revival of Jahr’s reputation and his insights. In March there was a
conference in Rijeka (Croatia). The
outcome of this was the Rijeka Declaration on the Future of Bioethics, an
international network of scholars and an annual FritzJahr Award for the
Research and Promotion of European Roots of Bioethics.

Michael Cook
bioethics
Fritz Jahr