Law and Bioethics

OXFORD COMPANION TO BIOETHICS, Second Edition, Forthcoming

13 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 26 Jan 2010

See all articles by Wibren van der Burg

Wibren van der Burg

Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Date Written: August 11, 2009


In this paper, I begin with discussing the problem of defining concepts of law and morality. The broad range of possible conceptions of both is discussed and a distinction is made between a process view and a product view. It is argued that our views on the relation between law and morality depend on which conceptions of law and morality we presuppose. After this preliminary work the question is raised: When is it justified to transform morality into law, or at least to give legal effect to it? The major issues can be discussed under three headings: the integrity of the law, the intended effects and unwanted side-effects, and straightforwardly normative issues. We may also go from law to morality; the main normative issue is then that of political obligation. In most Western countries, health law and bioethics are strongly intertwined. This strong connection is the result of some specific factors that, in the early years of these disciplines, facilitated a rapid development of both and led to a strong convergence. We have moved from a moralistic-paternalistic model to a liberal model. The latter is now dominant in most Western countries and enables law and ethics to closely co-operate and converge. In some countries, a third model is emerging in which health law and ethics will partly diverge again. (Chapter for the Oxford Companion to Bioethics (Second Edition, Forthcoming), with minor changes compared to the first edition.)

Suggested Citation

van der Burg, Wibren, Law and Bioethics (August 11, 2009). OXFORD COMPANION TO BIOETHICS, Second Edition, Forthcoming , Available at SSRN:

Wibren Van der Burg (Contact Author)

Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam ( email )

Section Sociology, Theory and Methodology
PO Box 1738
3000 DR Rotterdam


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