There are a great number of ethical/philosphical theories that can be applied when reviewing and discussing the ethics of biomedical research, but they can be grouped into three main types:
- Consequentialist theories - the focus is on the consequence or outcome of an action. For example, if an action produces a good outcome, it is morally right.
- Deontological theories - these identify moral duties that should be followed; the focus here is on the action that is taken, rather than the outcome.
- Virtue theory - it is the moral character of the individual who is performing the action that is the focus; if an individual is acting virtuously then the actions of that individual (and hence the outcomes) will be morally right.
An approach that is widely applied in the field of biomedical ethics, however, is that of principlism, as described by Beauchamp and Childress in 1977. Principlism takes elements from a number of the theories described above, but provides four main principles that should be considered when undertaking ethical review: