Systematic reviews in bioethics: types, challenges, and value

J Med Philos. 2014 Feb;39(1):89-97. doi: 10.1093/jmp/jht059. Epub 2013 Dec 14.


There has recently been interest in applying the techniques of systematic review to bioethics literature. In this paper, I identify the three models of systematic review proposed to date in bioethics: systematic reviews of empirical bioethics research, systematic reviews of normative bioethics literature, and systematic reviews of reasons. I argue that all three types yield information useful to scholarship in bioethics, yet they also face significant challenges particularly in relation to terminology and time. Drawing on my recent experience conducting a systematic review, I suggest that complete comprehensiveness may not always be an appropriate goal of a literature review in bioethics, depending on the research question. In some cases, all the relevant ideas may be captured without capturing all the relevant literature. I conclude that systematic reviews in bioethics have an important role to play alongside the traditional broadbrush approach to reviewing literature in bioethics.

Keywords: methodology; systematic review; systematic reviews of reasons.

MeSH terms

  • Bioethics*
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Research Design
  • Review Literature as Topic*