In 1970, Van Rensselaer Potter was the first to the use the term ‘bioethics’ in a publication to advocate a new discipline needed to address the basic problems of human flourishing. In his early publications, Potter conceptualized bioethics as a bridge. First, it is a bridge between the present and the future; because of growing concerns about the future and the need to make sure that humankind will survive, bioethics is necessary as a new discipline to focus on long-term interests and goals; therefore, it can be regarded as the science of survival. Second, it is a bridge between science and values. The priority problems of humankind are multidimensional requiring us to combine all categories of knowledge and use really interdisciplinary approaches. Third, it is a bridge between nature and culture. From an evolutionary perspective, both are not static but dynamic notions; they are continuously changing, evolving, sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse. All available knowledge should be brought together to direct developments towards real progress in the future. Fourth, bioethics is a bridge between humankind and nature. Because the environment is increasingly polluted and natural resources are becoming more and more scarce, we need new ethics that take the findings of the new science of ecology seriously; one that regards human beings as interrelated with their environment.

In later publications Potter introduced the new name of ‘global bioethics’. On the one hand, he was disappointed about the development of bioethics with merely a focus on individual and medical issues. On the other hand, he wanted to underline the need for a broader perspective, transcending ethics specialties such as: medical ethics, environmental ethics, agricultural ethics, social ethics and religious ethics, and integrating them into a new interdisciplinary intellectual and practical endeavor to approach the global problems of the world community and future generations. Today, there appears to be an increased interest in global bioethics so that it may be timely to retrieve Potter’s original insights. Particularly, the efforts of UNESCO translate Potter’s views into a range of activities to promote bioethical infrastructure, among other in Islamic countries.


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  • Accepted: 23 June 2012
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