|Keywords:||Ethical aspects; United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).|
|Correct citation:||Kutukdjian, G.B. (1997), "The Need for Bioethics is Universal." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 31, p. 24.|
Suman Sahai qualified the present debate in India on bioethics as "spurious and somewhat bogus" (Monitor No. 30). Borrowed ethical arguments from the industrialized countries should not limit developing countries from reaping the benefits of science and technology. However, according to Georges B. Kutukdjian, the need to balance benefits against the social and cultural costs is relevant to all societies. Developing countries should continue to contribute to the international debate on bioethics.
Bioethics implies new thinking on changes in society induced by scientific
and technological innovations. It fuels a public debate on societal choices
and on ways of guaranteeing the informed participation of citizens. The
growing awareness of the human and social implications of progress in the
life and health sciences is certainly one of the most significant developments
at the close of the 20th century. Thanks to the discoveries in the fields
of genetics, neurosciences and embryology, humanity has acquired the power
to transform the processes of all living species, including its own. Public
and private decision makers increasingly recognize the potential impact
of this new power. Scientists themselves see the debate on bioethics as
an integral part of the development of scientific knowledge: a genuine
need for bioethical thinking to accompany scientific research (not hamper
it) and anticipate its applications (not ban them).
Bioethics is derived from a dual need:
A growing number of countries, such as Bulgaria, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Lebanon, Moldavia and Tunisia, are setting up national bioethics advisory committees to examine bioethical questions in a manner relevant to their societies and their priorities. These discussions cannot be discarded as "spurious and bogus". Their aim is precisely to contribute in a creative and comprehensive way to the international debate. It is certainly for this aim that the National Academy of Sciences of India organized a symposium on "Genome Research: Ethical, Legal, Social and Economic Issues" in Goa in May 1997. This Symposium not only reviewed the issues raised by genomic research in the light of their relevance to India, but assessed them from a international perspective.
Surely no one would hold the view that the principles of precaution;
benefits versus risk assessment; security; proportionality; transparency
and trust; and information of the consumer and the public in general, are
irrelevant to the societies of the South. This would tend to assume that
the nations of the South should be less concerned with the future of humanity.
Nevertheless, this view could be inferred from Sahai's statement that such
a debate is "rhetorics borrowed from the West".
The scientific communities of the South, North, East and West are demonstrating a keen sense of responsibility and solidarity to seek a necessary balance between the possible (scientifically) and the acceptable (ethically). The level of acceptance of a technology in a society is of paramount importance in terms of the social and cultural costs of that technology, let alone in economic terms. Relations between science, technology and the future of humanity are closely intertwined. These relations will have a decisive impact on sustainable development, population growth, energy consumption, environmental protection, etc. and thus on world equilibria. By taking into account the cultural diversity and different sensitivities throughout the world, bioethics strives to flesh out the idea of universalism. This concept, which is at the root of human rights, is crucial to bioethics.
Georges B. Kutukdjian
director of the Bioethics Unit of the UNESCO in Paris, France.
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