Van Rensselaer Potter: Thinking Differently about Bioethics

  • Guillaume Paré Direction de la recherche et de l’innovation, Polytechnique Montréal, Montréal, Québec, Canada
  • Michel Bergeron Département de médecine sociale et préventive, École de santé publique, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Québec, Canada
Keywords: bioethics, environment, knowledge, wisdom, common good, adaptation, university, Van Rensselaer Potter, sustainable development
Language(s): French


In 2021, Van Rensselaer Potter's book Bioethics: Bridge to the Future celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. The author’s conception of bioethics differs from that of André Hellegers, who set the standard in the field. However, as a guide, Potter presents important elements for thinking about the place of bioethics in the societal context and the current development of knowledge. In the following text, we discuss some of the background to the book. We first briefly pause to describe the dominant perspective of bioethics. Then we highlight some important elements of the author’s conception of what bioethics should be. We conclude by examining the implications of this thinking for two issues: the university and sustainable development from a UN perspective. This approach will lead us to an element that we consider important in the author’s thinking, that of openness. This openness is offered to bioethics by the inclusion of perspectives on the various understandings of life, openness to the consideration of ancestral knowledge and common knowledge, openness also to any other context, whether they involve minority situations, disadvantaged people or others. This openness gives particular meaning to a primary value of bioethics, that of respect for human dignity.

How to Cite
Paré G, Bergeron M. Van Rensselaer Potter: Thinking Differently about Bioethics. Can. J. Bioeth. 2022;5:79-91.