Before the modern discipline of bioethics evolved, ethics had been on the centre stage of medical practice for more than two millennia, since the time of Hippocrates. In 1803, Thomas Percival published his book on Medical Ethics
, which became the template on which the code of ethics of the American Medical Association was based in 1847 [1
]. Medical ethics then existed as a code of conduct for medical practitioners and was aimed at the physician putting the interests of his patients uppermost at heart. However, the origin of bioethics, as it is known and practiced today, can be traced back to three different but interrelated events: a set of scandals in biomedical research, advancement in medical technology and the civil rights movement [2
]. Of the scandals, the most well-known is the infamous Nazi experimentation on war prisoners and the subsequent Nuremberg trials of the 1940s. As a result of this and other scandals that trailed the medical profession subsequent to Nuremberg, various codes, declarations, guidelines, policies and documents came into existence and became widely applied to research with human subjects and to health care practice as a whole. The scandals and the events thereafter led to three developments. First, physicians became more sensitive to the ethics of the profession. Medicine is a moral discipline but the indirect method of achieving moral acculturation would no longer be sufficient to equip the physician to meet the ethical challenges of modern day biomedical practice. The need for formal education in medical ethics was thus acknowledged. Second, society became sensitized to the necessity of becoming involved in the decisions which ultimately affect their health and liberty. This signaled the decline of paternalism and the rise of liberalism, individual rights and autonomy in medical practice. Third, the coming of other professionals from different disciplines like social sciences, humanities and the law into what had hitherto been the exclusive domain of medical professionals led to the "socialization" of biomedical science, which further spurred on the bioethics movement.
The scope of bioethics has continued to expand in response to changes in societal dynamics, medical technology and health care practices. Perhaps more because of its antecedents than for want of content, most of the discourse and writings in the early days of bioethics centred on issues of patient-physician relationship, respect for person, best interest of the patient, and justice in health care delivery. Today, traditional bioethics discussions and literature are changing as new ethical concerns evolve around dilemmas posed by new technology on the subjects of end of life issues, organ donation, human reproduction and human genomics. Moreover, the bioethics agenda has expanded to include the subjects of resource allocation, organizational ethics and public health ethics, among others.
Bioethics in its present form is rooted in and largely dominated by western culture. The tempo and content of bioethics discourse are largely influenced by the technological creations of the developed world. However, ethics is not exclusively the domain of the west. Core ethical values are essentially the same for all human communities leaving aside each community's customs, culture and preferences [3
]. According to Potter, bioethics is "the application of ethics to all of life" [4
]. In the globalization of bioethics, different cultural, ethnic and religious perspectives are given a voice. Though bioethics has come of age in the developed and some developing countries, it is still largely "foreign" to most African countries. It is time Africa joined the bioethics bandwagon. Its relevance and applications to science and research are vital and should not be overlooked. The call of this paper therefore, is for bioethics to be integrated as a required component of medical education curriculum in Africa.