Call for submissions for Special Issue “V. R. Potter’s Bioethics 50 years later”


Call for submissions for Special Issue “V. R. Potter’s Bioethics 50 years later”

Guest Editors:

  • Bryn Williams-Jones, Bioethics Program, School of Public Health, Université de Montréal
  • Guillaume Durand, Master in Ethics, UFR Letters and Languages, Université de Nantes
  • Aliya Affdal, Bioethics Program, School of Public Health, Université de Montréal
  • Charles Dupras, Centre of Genomics and Policy, McGill University
  • Vincent Couture, Faculty of Nursing, Université Laval


In 1971, a visionary American biochemist and oncologist by the name of Van Rensselaer Potter published Bioethics: Bridge to the Future, a work considered by many to be one of the founding elements in the birth of bioethics. According to Potter, the rapid development of science, technology and medicine requires new thinking and an awareness of the potentially devastating impact of humans on their environment. He thus called for collective introspection and a new sense of responsibility, which he said would be necessary for the survival of humanity.

Potter's thinking is in line with the thinking of other great thinkers of the 20th century such as Fritz Jahr (Bio-Ethik, 1927), Aldo Léopold (A Sand County Almanac, 1949) and Hans Jonas (The Responsibility Principle, 1979). These authors defend the need for an ethics of the environment and, more generally, of an “ethics of survival” in response to the new capacity of humanity to destroy ecosystems and, by the same token, of self-destruction. Faced with these threats, Potter imagined bioethics as a space for interdisciplinary discussion, at the intersection of the study of biology, chemistry, medicine, the humanities and social sciences. Its main object of reflection would be the future (prospective approach), its scope would be universal (humanist approach).

Fifty years later, Potter’s vision is not the dominant one in teaching, practice and research in bioethics. Rather, bioethics is often reduced to a biomedical ethics centred above all on the ethical, legal and social issues raised by the clinical application of new technologies. This approach to bioethics was initiated by the school of André Hellegers (Georgetown University, USA) in the early 1970s and popularized by the foundational work of Tom Beauchamp and James Childress (The Principles of Biomedical Ethics, 1979) and by the Belmont Report (USA, 1979). Thus, contemporary American-inspired bioethics is associated more with clinical ethics and research ethics rather than with a “global bioethics” (Potter, 1988) which would attach greater importance to the ethics of public health, health policy ethics and environmental ethics.

At a time of global warming, the massive extinction of species and the unprecedented pandemic linked to COVID-19, a global bioethics – one that would not only be interested in short-term (and reactive) “micro-ethics” but also by a “macro-ethics” oriented towards the future (prospective) and with the objective of the survival and well-being of humanity – seems more necessary than ever.

In the context of a special issue to be published in 2021 to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Potter's book Bioethics: Bridge to the Future, the Canadian Journal of Bioethics is launching a call for papers that discuss the potential of Potter’s vision for contemporary bioethics. Contributions could answer, amongst others, one of these questions:

  • What is Potter’s legacy and which bioethics authors have continued his work?
  • What are the tools, concepts and principles that Potter’s vision can offer to inspire contemporary bioethics?
  • How can we operationalize Potter’s bioethics in the teaching, research and practice of bioethics?
  • How can we apply Potter’s bioethics to the current COVID-19 pandemic?
  • How can climate change, the reduction of biodiversity and the destruction of ecosystems be taken into account in bioethical thinking?
  • How can we reconcile biomedical ethics with Potter’s global bioethics?
  • Is Potter’s bioethics confined to environmental ethics?
  • How can we explain the marginal influence of Potter’s bioethics?
  • What elements of Potter’s work deserve to be dusted off and/or adapted to the current context?

Contributions are welcome in different formats:

  • Articles (3500-15000 words; peer-reviewed)
  • Critical commentaries (2000-3000 words; peer-reviewed)
  • “Response to” commentaries (1000-2000 words; editor-reviewed)
  • Reviews (750-1200 words)
  • Case studies (750-1200 words)
  • Art, Culture & Creative Works (variable formats)

Your contribution may be in English or French. It must an original contribution (i.e., not previously published elsewhere), and it may be the product of either a conceptual or empirical study.

  • Deadline for submissions: 30 August 2020
  • Publication of the special issue: 22 April 2021

For more information about the special issue, or the submission and evaluation process, please consult the website of the Canadian Journal of Bioethics (CJB) at, or contact the Editor-in-chief of the journal, Bryn Williams-Jones (