The mission of the Regional Program on Bioethics is to cooperate with Member States in the development of bioethics. In this regard we build capacity in bioethics in the region, and support PAHO and Member States in the integration of bioethics in all health-related activities. Our work covers the principal areas of bioethics: research ethics, clinical ethics, and public health ethics.

Bioethics is the discipline that seeks to clarify ethical problems that arise in health: when conducting research with human subjects, when formulating and implementing public health policies and when providing health care. Bioethics is not a code of precepts but a discipline consisting of analytic activity based on ethical principles and criteria that guide practice in the different areas related to health. The Regional Bioethics program is based in Washington, D.C. and is part of the Department of Health Systems and Services. It was established in 1994 and based in Chile until 2010.

The Regional Bioethics Program also houses the PAHO Ethics Review Committee (PAHOERC). PAHOERC reviews all research with human subjects in which PAHO is involved.

Relevant publications

Research ethics

The Regional Bioethics Program seeks to strengthen research ethics systems to catalyze ethical research. 

Lines of Work 

  • Promote adequate normative frameworks, competent ethics review committees, functional oversight mechanisms, ethics traning, and the responsible conduct of research. 
  • Facilitate the implementation of ProEthos Software for Ethics Review Committees to ensure standards and efficiency in ethics review of human subjects research by committees
  • Develop guidance on research ethics; and support its adoption through the creation of additional resources and training materials

Public health ethics

The Regional Program on Bioethics supports the integration of ethics in public health surveillance and decision-making. Support for public health ethics takes the form of trainings, publications, and ongoing consultations with regional offices and teams.

Lines of work

  • Support the integration of ethics in public health decision-making
  • Support the establishment of mechanisms to incorporate ethics in health policies and in priority-setting decisions for universal health coverage (e.g. health technology assessment
  • Develop guidance, resources and training materials on public health ethics. 
  • Provide training to respond to the ethical challenges posed by public health work: in emergencies, response to outbreaks of infectious diseases (e.g. zika), immunization programs, etc. 

Bioethics: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between the duties of the Regional Program on Bioethics and the Ethics Office in PAHO?

The Regional Program on Bioethics works in bioethics as the discipline that studies the ethical problems that arise in regards to the health, for example, when conducting research with human subjects, designing a health policy, or providing health care.  

The Ethics Office seeks to ensure that PAHO employees behave ethically in the exercise of their work: With professional integrity and following the rules of conduct of the Organization. 

Which are the different areas within bioethics?

Ethical problems permeate all areas of work in health.  Health related activities can be therapeutic (aimed at a direct benefit) or non-therapeutic (aimed at the generation of knowledge). Furthermore, they can aim at the individual or collective level.

The health activity that seeks the benefit of individuals is health care, and the ethical problems that arise in this context are the subject of clinical ethics. The health activity that seeks the benefit of populations is public health and the ethical problems that arise in this context are the subject of public health ethics. The health activity that doesn't seek a direct benefit for individuals but rather seeks for the generation of knowledge is health research. The ethical problems that arise when conducting health research are the subject of research ethics. Health research can either be clinical research or public health research. Research ethics covers both since they share the same normative and regulatory framework.