Original Research - Special Collection: Johan Buitendag Festschrift

Ethics in medicine: Challenges in the 21st century

Ulrich H.J. Körtner
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 79, No 2 | a8254 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v79i2.8254 | © 2023 Ulrich H.J. Körtner | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 29 October 2022 | Published: 07 March 2023

About the author(s)

Ulrich H.J. Körtner, Insitute of Systematic Theology and Religious Studies, Faculty of Protestant Theology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria; and, Department for Ethics and Law in Medicine, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria; and, Department of Systematic and Historical Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


The article provides an overview of important topics in contemporary medical ethics. Methodologically, it is a literature review. The article addresses only a limited selection of the problematic areas, which are, however, related to each other: digitisation of medicine, genome editing, personalised medicine as well as ethical problems and dilemmas of allocation in healthcare. The global COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as a focus and trigger. Reflections on human rights and justice in medicine are fundamental not only on the individual and social level but also on a global scale. The fundamental question is how society as a whole can be involved in the complex biopolitical and bioethical debate. The social and cultural consequences of life increasingly being understood as a technical product rather than a gift are serious.

Contribution: The article also reflects on the specific contribution that Christian theology, and in particular the reformed heritage, can make to bioethical debates in modern society. The distinction between instrumental knowledge [Verfügungswissen] and orientational knowledge [Orientierungswissen] is helpful for its better understanding. A crucial result of this article is that medical treatment is repeatedly faced with ethical dilemmas. Moreover, medical progress not only creates new and better solutions to medical problems, it also raises new ethical questions that did not exist before. The purpose of medical ethics lies in identifying such dilemmas and developing ethical decision-making processes that help us to deal with such dilemmas to some extent.


ethics in medicine; digitisation of medicine; genome editing; life sciences; reformed theology and heritage; personalised medicine; allocation; dilemmas in medicine and healthcare.

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 3: Good health and well-being


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