Unit for Bioethics

Unit for Bioethics


Flagship research topics

The Unit is currently engaged in the following research:

    • The ethics of human enhancement
    • The ethics of reproductive technology, particularly embryo-experimentation, stem cell research and cloning
    • Ethical and socio-political problems surrounding HIV/AIDS in Africa
    • Physician-assisted suicide
    • Advance directives
    • Altruism and self-interest in medical practice
    • The problem of global resistance to drugs, particularly in the case of tuberculosis
    • Integrating western and traditional African medicine: ethical perspectives
    • Patients’ rights in the South African context
    • Bioethical issues related to sport
    • Ethics issues in global mental health, particularly the ethics of large-scale neuropsychiatric genetic studies in low- and middle-income contexts
    • Ethical and philosophical challenges in psychiatry and psychiatric nosology


The Unit provides the following services:
    • Presentations on themes in bioethics
    • Lectures/seminars for Continued Professional Development (CPD) in the medical profession
    • Conferences on selected themes in bioethics;
    • Consultation on ethical decision-making for health care workers and institutions;
    • Advising institutions involved with policy-making and -application;
    • Conducting courses and workshops in the field of bioethics;
    • A Bioethics Discussion group which meets every three weeks and is comprised of various medical professionals who have completed the MPhil course as well as philosophy postgraduate students who have an interest in bioethics

Bioethics discussion group

A very significant addition to the activities of the Unit has been the creation in 2013 of a discussion group on bioethical issues. This was primarily intended as an intellectual sounding board and think tank of Prof. van Niekerk’s team of postgraduate students who work in the field. Anybody with an interest in the subject, however, is welcome to attend. The group commenced with a series of discussions on the human enhancement problematic which is currently the main topic of research in the Unit. Meetings are roughly every three weeks for about 90 minutes to two hours at a time. At each session a speaker presents on a chosen topic which is then followed by a group discussion. It is hoped that this activity will in future lead to larger conferences and to publications of individuals or the team.


Selected journal articles from the last five years

  • Palk, A.C., Illes, J., Thompson, P.M. & Stein, D.J. 2020. Ethical Issues in Global Neuroimaging Genetics Collaborations. NeuroImagehttps://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.117208
  • Palk, A.C., Bitta, M., Kamaara, E., Stein, D.J. & Singh, I. 2020. Investigating assumptions of vulnerability – A case study of the exclusion of psychiatric inpatients as participants in genetics research in low- and middle-income contexts. Developing World Bioethics. 1-10. http://https ://doi.org/10.1111/dewb.12251
  • Van Niekerk, A.A. 2019. Is ‘decolonisation’ a legitimate and appropriate value in biomedical research and teaching?” South African Journal of Bioethics and Law, vol. 12 (1):4-7. http://DOI:10.7196/SAJBL.2019.v12i1.652
  • Van Niekerk, AA. 2019. Medically unnecessary genital cutting and the rights of the child: Moving Toward Consensus (with B Earp et al – The Brussels Collaboration on Bodily Integrity). The American Journal of Bioethics, 19 (10): 17-28. https://doi.org/10.1080/15265161.2019.1643945
  • Palk, A.C., Dalvie, S., De Vries, J. Martin, A.R. & Stein, D.J. 2019. Potential use of clinical polygenic risk scores in psychiatry – ethical implications and communicating high polygenic risk. Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine, 14(1). DOI: 10.1186/s13010-019-0073-8
  • Ewuoso, C. & Hall, S. 2019. ‘Core Aspects of Ubuntu: A Systematic Review’. South African Journal of Bioethics and Law, 38(1): 55-67. https://doi.org/10.7196/SAJBL.2019.v12i2.679
  • Palk, A.C. 2018. Mandatory neurointerventions could enhance the mental integrity of certain criminal offenders. AJOB Neuroscience, 9(3):150-152. https://doi.org/10.1080/21507740.2018.1496174
  • Hall, D.R. & van Niekerk, A.A. 2017. Reconsidering counselling and consent. Developing World Bioethics, 17 (1): 4-10. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/dewb.12100/epdf
  • Rakotsoane, F.C.L. & van Niekerk, AA. 2017. Human life invaluableness: an emerging African biomedical principle. SA Journal of Philosophy, 36 (2): 252-262. https://doi.org/10.1080/02580136.2016.1223983
  • Sidler, D., Earp, B.D., van Niekerk, A.A., Moodley, K., & Kling, S. 2017. Targeting mothers and selling men what they do not want: a response to ‘Missed opportunities for circumcision of boys’. SA Medical Journal, 107 (4): 28. http://www.samj.org.za/index.php/samj/article/view/11864/0
  • Ewuoso, C., Hall, S. & Dierickx, K. 2017. ‘How do healthcare professionals manage ethical challenges regarding information in health care professional-patient clinical interactions? A Review of Concept/Argument-Based Papers and Case Analyses’, South African Journal of Bioethics and Law, 10 (2): 75-82. http://10.7196/SAJBL.2017.v10i2.00610
  • Van Niekerk, 2016. Non-racism as core value in Bioethics. Ethics, Medicine and Public Health, vol. 2(2): 263-271. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jemep.2016.03.001
  • Hall, D.R. & van Niekerk, A.A. 2016. Reproductive autonomy: a case study.SA Journal of Bioethics and Law, 9 (2): 61-64. http://DOI:10.7196/SAJBL.2016.v9i2.496

Selected book chapters from the last five years

  • Van Niekerk, AA. 2020. What is the shape of future ethics?” in: J.A. van den Berg (ed.): Engaging the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Perspectives from Theology, Philosophy and  Education. Bloemfontein: Sun Press, 2020, pp. 113-134.
  • Palk, A.C. & Stein, D.J. 2020. Cosmetic psychopharmacology in a global context. In D Stein & I Singh, Global mental health and neuroethics. Elsevier: 95-115. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-815063-4.00007-1
  • Palk, A.C. & Stein, D.J. 2020. Ethical issues in global mental health.  In D Stein & I Singh, Global mental health and neuroethics. Elsevier: 265-285. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-815063-4.00016-2
  • Lenk, C. & Hall, S. 2019. ‘Access to health care in emerging and industrialised nations: A comparison between South Africa and Germany’. In: Steger, F. (Ed.), Diversität im Gesundheitswesen. Freiburg: Alber.
  • Van Niekerk, A.A. 2018. The new biotechnologies: Nirvana, or Prometheus and Frankenstein? Ethics and the biotechnology revolution of our time”, in: C Jones (ed.): Justice-based ethics: challenging South African perspectives. Johannesburg: AOSIS, 2018: 31-59. URL: https://books.aosis.co.za/index.php/ob/catalog/book/77
  • Van Niekerk. 2017. New and emerging technologies in health care in the 21st century (with K Moodley, C Dandara, K Mpye & J Greenberg). In: K Moodley (ed.): Medical ethics, law and human rights: A South African perspective, second edition. Pretoria: Van Schaik: pp. 379-395.