In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Changing Vocabularies:A Guide to Help Bioethics Searchers Find Relevant Literature in National Library of Medicine Databases Using the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) Indexing Vocabulary
  • Tamar Joy Kahn and Hannelore Ninomiya

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Accessing and Searching MEDLINE/PubMed
II-A. Using the Bioethics Subset Limiter in MEDLINE/PubMed
II-B. Searching MEDLINE Using Free Text or MeSH Headings
II-C. MeSH Subheadings, with Advice About Their Use for Bioethics-Related Retrieval
II-D. MeSH Geographics and "Check Tags," with Advice About Their Use for Bioethics-Related Retrieval
II-E. Bioethics-Related "Other Terms"
III. Accessing and Searching the LOCATORplus Database
III-A. Limiting Retrieval to Bioethics-Related Materials in LOCATORplus
III-B. Searching LOCATORplus Using Free Text or MeSH Headings
IV. Using the NLM Gateway for Searching Simultaneously MEDLINE/PubMed, LOCATORplus, and Other NLM Databases
IV-A. Using the Bioethics Subset Limiter with the Gateway
IV-B. Searching the Gateway Using Free Text or MeSH Headings
V. Hints for Designing Bioethics Subject Search Strategies in MEDLINE/PubMed, LOCATORplus, and the Gateway
VI. Selected "Major Issue" Bioethics Thesaurus Keywords and Corresponding MeSH, Arranged by Broad Subject Category
Appendix A: Quick Guide to Finding Bioethics Citations in MEDLINE/PubMed
Appendix B: Quick Guide to Finding Bioethics Citations in LOCATORplus
Appendix C: Quick Guide to Finding Bioethics Citations Using the NLM Gateway
Appendix D: Alphabetical List of All Bioethics Thesaurus Keywords with Corresponding MeSH Terms (not included here; available at

I. Introduction

For over twenty years, through December 2000, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) provided access to the journal and monographic literature of bioethics via a specialized database, BIOETHICSLINE, which was produced by the Kennedy Institute of Ethics (KIE) at Georgetown University. BIOETHICSLINE was indexed and searched using Keywords from the controlled vocabulary of the KIE's Bioethics Thesaurus. The vocabulary of the Thesaurus was developed over many years to reflect the concepts and terminology encountered in the bioethics literature.

Subsequently, citations to the journal literature were integrated into the "Bioethics Subset" of NLM's MEDLINE/PubMed database, which is made available on the World Wide Web via the PubMed retrieval system. Citations to books, book chapters, and audiovisual materials were integrated into NLM's Web-based database, LOCATORplus. Both of these large databases are indexed with NLM's MeSH (Medical Subject Headings)vocabulary.

Most of the approximately 750 Bioethics Thesaurus Keywords have been integrated into the MeSH vocabulary, which contains nearly 22,000 "subject descriptors."

The form of many Keywords was modified to fit the language patterns and hierarchical "tree" structures of MeSH or to avoid ambiguity in the broad medical context. For example, a natural language order multiword Keyword (MEDICAL ETHICS) became an inverted order MeSH Heading (ETHICS, MEDICAL). In nearly all such cases, the Keyword has been programmed as an "entry" term to the MeSH Heading, making it possible to search MEDLINE/PubMed with either the natural language or inverted form.

This Guide, available on the World Wide Web at, is designed to help searchers familiar with the bioethics literature, or with the subject Keywords of the Bioethics Thesaurus, navigate the MeSH vocabulary to find terms that are likely to retrieve relevant citations. The Guide is also designed to introduce people interested in bioethics to the MEDLINE/PubMed and LOCATORplus databases and to NLM's Gateway system, which lets users search simultaneously in multiple NLM databases with their differing retrieval systems.

See Section VI for a set of easy-to-scan lists, in broad subject categories, of a subset of 110 Keywords that represent "major issues" in bioethics. In each list, Column 1 shows the Keyword (KW) and Column 2 shows the MeSH Headings (MH) most likely to have been used to index the same concept in MEDLINE/PubMed and LOCATORplus. Appendix D (available at provides a full alphabetical list of all Bioethics Thesaurus Keywords that have MeSH equivalents. [End Page 276]

II. Accessing and Searching MEDLINE/Pubmed

The MEDLINE/PubMed database is available free on the Internet, at For detailed information on how to search the database...


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