Bioethical thought leaders from six major religions and twelve countries gathered in Mexico City for the Fourth International Bioethics, Multiculturalism, and Religion Workshop and Conference to discuss the role of social responsibility in health from their diverse traditions.  The participants dedicated three days to reflection and exchange that based primarily on article 14 of the 2005 UNESCO Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. UNESCO Chair partner university the Anahuac University hosted the event on November 10-12 as part of their 50thanniversary celebrations. The online speakers list and schedule for the workshop provides further information on the event and its participants.

“I feel like I am coming to a family reunion,” said Dafna Feinholz, Chief of Section for the UNESCO Sector for Social and Human Sciences, regarding the fraternal spirit that permeated the work of attendees. The familial atmosphere among the collaborators is largely due to the fact that many speakers have cooperated in the previous conferences held at Hong Kong in 2013, (watch video) at Rome in 2011 (watch video), and at Jerusalem in 2009 (watch video).

While each session allotted an hour to spontaneous dialogue in response to the three prepared presentations, the conversation inevitably spilled over into the coffee breaks, shared meals, and even the organized tours of Mexico City’s cultural heritage. Dr. John Lunstroth, Professor of Law at the University of Houston, has already taken the initiative to open an internet forum to continue the international discussion on the various themes raised at the Mexico gathering and to prepare for the 2016 workshop and conference planned for Houston, Texas.

Feinholz, herself a native of Mexico, traveled from the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris to accompany the group during their three-day workshop and conference. She observed that Mexico City was a particularly fitting location for the discussion on social responsibility in health care, since Mexico joined a number of other Latin American countries in defending the value of including article 14 in the 2005 UNESCO declaration.

In addition to sharing first-hand accounts of her experience in assisting in the drafting of the discussed UNESCO document during the three days of conferences, Feinholz also guided a Spanish/English public evening symposium on “Present and Future Challenges of Bioethics and the Mexican Contribution.” She explained that while UNESCO declarations do not immediately bind as law, they do serve as invaluable points of reference for legislation. She highlighted the work of various UNESCO Chairs of Bioethics and Human Rights throughout the world in the implementation of the declaration at a local level and particularly praised the Rome Chair that hosted the event for its special attention to interreligious dialogue and to the relation between bioethics and art.

Dr. Chris Durante, Professor of Religious Studies at the New York University, set the tone of the various sessions with his introductory address on “Dialogue Despite Diversity: Sharing norms when our moralities differ.” Following his indications, participants sought to understand each religious tradition and their manner of arriving at moral norms without engaging in ill-informed, harsh criticisms. Without ignoring their obvious ethical differences, emphasis was placed upon finding bridge concepts that could stimulate continued dialogue and practical collaboration in realizing shared values.

In keeping with last year’s Hong Kong workshop and conference, the religious traditions of Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism presented their respective visions of the days’ common theme. In addition to these diverse religious viewpoints, this year’s workshop and conference featured consideration of the diverse Mesoamerican religious and cultural traditions that continue to influence thought and life in Mexico. Dr. Carlos Viesca Treviño of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, renowned expert of these Mesoamerican cultures, offered a summary of their most noteworthy aspects and fielded the participants’ questions.

The series of workshops and conferences on the theme of Bioethics, Multiculturalism and Religion was born from the conviction that religious believers, who form the vast majority of the world population, should not be excluded a priori from conversations on global bioethics.

“The Chair is an academic institution, not a lobby or a church,” explained UNESCO Chair Director Alberto Garcia in an address during the opening session of the event. Nonetheless, religious believers should not be dismissed as fundamentalists and have proved capable of “creating spaces of mutual respect,” added Garcia.

Discussion continues on the exact date and theme of the next workshop and conference at Houston, Texas in 2016. To contribute to the decision, visit the online forum of participants at unescobiochair.wordpress.com.Fourth_International_II