Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 207–214 | Cite as

Beyond integrating social sciences: Reflecting on the place of life sciences in empirical bioethics methodologies

  • Marcel Mertz
  • Jan Schildmann
Scientific Contribution


Empirical bioethics is commonly understood as integrating empirical research with normative-ethical research in order to address an ethical issue. Methodological analyses in empirical bioethics mainly focus on the integration of socio-empirical sciences (e.g. sociology or psychology) and normative ethics. But while there are numerous multidisciplinary research projects combining life sciences and normative ethics, there is few explicit methodological reflection on how to integrate both fields, or about the goals and rationales of such interdisciplinary cooperation. In this paper we will review some drivers for the tendency of empirical bioethics methodologies to focus on the collaboration of normative ethics with particularly social sciences. Subsequently, we argue that the ends of empirical bioethics, not the empirical methods, are decisive for the question of which empirical disciplines can contribute to empirical bioethics in a meaningful way. Using already existing types of research integration as a springboard, five possible types of research which encompass life sciences and normative analysis will illustrate how such cooperation can be conceptualized from a methodological perspective within empirical bioethics. We will conclude with a reflection on the limitations and challenges of empirical bioethics research that integrates life sciences.


Empirical bioethics Empirically informed bioethics Evidence-based ethics Empirical research in ethics Life sciences Interdisciplinary research 



We like to thank the members of the working group “Ethik und Empirie” of the Akademie für Ethik in der Medizin e.V. (Academy for Ethics in Medicine) for their critical comments on an early draft of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for History, Ethics and Philosophy of MedicineHannover Medical SchoolHanoverGermany
  2. 2.Institute for EthicsWilhelm Löhe University of Applied ScienceFürthGermany
  3. 3.Department of Medicine IIIKlinikum der Universität MünchenMunichGermany

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