Applied ethics refers to the practical application of moral considerations. It is ethics with respect to real-world actions and their moral considerations in the areas of private and public life, the professions, health, technology, law, and leadership. For example, the bioethics community is concerned with identifying the correct approach to moral issues in the life sciences, such as euthanasia, the allocation of scarce health resources, or the use of human embryos in research. Environmental ethics is concerned with ecological issues such as the responsibility of government and corporations to clean up pollution. Business ethics includes questions regarding the duties or duty of 'whistleblowers' to the general public or their loyalty to their employers.
Applied ethics has expanded the study of ethics beyond the realms of academic philosophical discourse. The field of applied ethics, as it appears today, emerged from debate surrounding rapid medical and technological advances in the early 1970s and is now established as a subdiscipline of moral philosophy. However, applied ethics is, by its very nature, a multi-professional subject because it requires specialist understanding of the potential ethical issues in fields like medicine, business or information technology. Nowadays, ethical codes of conduct exist in almost every profession.
An applied ethics approach to the examination of moral dilemmas can take many different forms but one of the most influential and most widely utilised approaches in bioethics and health care ethics is the four-principle approach developed by Tom Beauchamp and James Childress. The four-principle approach, commonly termed principlism, entails consideration and application of four prima facie ethical principles: autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence, and justice.