During three days our UNESCO Chair workshop will analyse and discuss “Bioethical Challenges in Neurogenomics from an Interreligious and Multicultural Perspective”.  Previous workshops have successfully taken place in Jerusalem, Rome, Hong Kong and Mexico with the participation of more than 70 prestigious interdisciplinary scholars from around the world, including Houston.

 

Ours is the world’s foremost multicultural and interreligious academic bioethics conference and provides important benefits for the experts and institutions in the field of bioethics.  It provides a media platform promoting recognition and visibility of the academic and scientific commitment in the field of life sciences and medicine. It highlights their capacity for dialogue and understanding in our challenging globalized and diverse world. Furthermore the participants’ scholarly contributions are gathered and published in the workshop proceedings, the first having being “Religious Perspectives on Human Vulnerability” (Springer 2014).

 

We have chosen Houston for these conferences because it is an advanced and prestigious scientific, medical and university city. Its multicultural and diverse population makes this location attractive for experts in the field.  The topics to be addressed will capture the attention and interest of health professionals, university scholars, the scientific community, researchers, media, politicians and the general public.

 

Experts who are invited to participate receive no payment for their scientific contribution, however we cover their travel expenses, lodging and meals.  The participants will also be invited to view the winning works of art from our Bioethics Art Competition.

 

We are confident that this next major UNESCO Chair endeavour gathering twenty-five experts in bioethics and other related disciplines from seven major cultural and religious traditions will be an attractive undertaking for your prestigious institution. Through your contribution as an expert you will help to foster conversation and understanding among peoples from our globalized and religiously diverse world so in need of peace.

 

Four international conferences and workshops on “Bioethics, Multiculturalism and Religion” have been held in Jerusalem (2009), Rome (2011), Hong Kong (2013), Mexico City (2014). These academic conferences sought to foster the art of convergence and cooperation in global ethics among experts in bioethics coming from the world religions including Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.

 

Hosted by the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights, established in two Roman universities, the Università Europea di Roma and Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum, the conferences are a first step in creating a permanent academic forum to promote dialogue and bioethical reflection in the light of human rights and duties addressed from different religious and cultural perspectives in the worlds actively-advancing medical, legal and technological environment.

 

By gathering experts from these religions, a rare space for dialogue has been created where an atmosphere of friendship and respect reigns. Such dialogue and encounters allow us to see the other as our brothers and sisters in our common humanity. This is most urgent in our globalized reality, and can eliminate suspicions that are sometimes causes of distrust and even violence.

 

Our experiences enable us to share values and attitudes that facilitate dialogue and the accomplishment of UNESCO Chair goal of “Fostering the Art of Convergence and Cooperation in Global Ethics”. The Chair seeks to create a forum for diverse bioethics thought leaders. Collaborating in a spirit of respect and friendship we hope to deliver a common framework to guide the application of bioethical principles in the light of the UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. In this manner we can inform and enlighten ethical, legal and public opinions, decisions, and actions relative to medicine, life sciences and human rights and responsibilities.

 

 

Workshop History

 

During the 2011 Rome workshop we dealt with the principle of the protection of vulnerable peoples in bioethics in the light of the UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. It soon became clear that with so many different religious traditions, many conceptual problems were unresolved. The East-West contrast was particularly strong with regards to human rights.  Many participants of the workshop find the human rights language too individualistic.

 

The workshop in Hong Kong (2013) focused on the tension between human rights and cultural diversity, as they affect the life sciences, healthcare and the appropriate use of technology in these fields.

 

In Mexico 2014 the workshop focused on the principle of social responsibility and health from a multireligious and multicultural perspective, focusing on Article 14 of the UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, which states that: “1. The promotion of health and social development for their people is a central purpose of governments that all sectors of society share.  2. Taking into account that the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition, progress in science and technology should advance: (a) access to quality health care and essential medicines, especially for the health of women and children, because health is essential to life itself and must be considered to be a social and human good.”

 

Our next meeting in Houston 2016 will consist of a three-day workshop in which bioethics experts from Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism will gather to discuss different papers submitted for this occasion. The collection of these papers will result in the publication of a book.

 

The general theme for this workshop will be “Bioethical Challenges in Neurogenomics from an Interreligious and Multicultural Perspective” and has been chosen by the experts participating in our previous workshop (Mexico 2014) according to our common practice. To find convergence and cooperation in the field of these emerging technologies will be the core subject matter of the papers and workshop discussions and lectures.

 

Houston 2016 Workshop: Significance & Innovation

 

The rapid evolution of neuroscience and the science of genetics triggers exponential rather than linear growth in bioethical challenges. Additionally growing globalization-influenced pluralism among patients and medical professionals complicates bioethical responses able to be understood as normative within and across these different groups.

 

The 2016 Houston workshop and conference under the auspices of the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights serves as the world’s foremost multicultural and interreligious academic bioethics conference. It is uniquely poised from this perspective to analyze bioethical challenges arising at the interface of neuroscience and genetics and the patient-provider relationship.

 

At the intersection of neurobiology and genome science, neurogenomics is the study of how the genome as a whole contributes to the evolution, development, structure, function and disease of the nervous system (Nat Neurosci 2004 May; 7, 5: 429-33), providing “new clues on the understanding of neurodegenerative diseases by identifying common molecular pathways in neurodegeneration and cell type-specific gene expression patterns that may underscore selective susceptibility of specific neurons in disease”.

 

Neurogenomics is presently at a very exciting crossroad since recent discoveries have challenged the classic model of gene organization and information flow, and for these reasons are improving our self-understanding by providing biological descriptions of how man acts. However the bioethical imperative remains to articulate how man should act within the relevant phenomenological dimensions described from the rich blend of multi-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.

 

Paper guidelines

 

Recognized thought leaders from diverse religions and cultures will be invited to analyze, write a paper and discuss about these bioethical questions and their anthropological implications:

 

  1. using their religious and/or cultural authoritative texts and belief sources;
  2. organized around the workshop´s featured key questions
  3. within the global bioethics paradigm of human rights and duties, articulated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights (2005).
  4. engaging questions concerning potential bridge concepts as well as ‘problematic’ dissimilarities with suggestions on how they might be managed to keep the conversation focused with the aim of fostering convergence and cooperation

 

Key questions to be adressed by the papers

 

  1. How does my cultural tradition take into account genetics and epigenetics? What is the understanding of neuroscientific developments?
  2. Can genetic and brain interventions, drugs, and devices beyond therapeutic use be applied that might alter a patient’s personality, identity, and/or behaviors?
  3. Are genes and the brain taken into account in order to explain human nature and behavior better? Why or why not?
  4. What is the relationship between DNA, brain, mind, and soul?
  5. How can genetic and neuroscientific research and their clinical applications be cultivated to benefit developing countries?

“Advances in genomics is accelerating the pace of discovery in all areas of biology and medicine including psychiatry. Neuroscientists are now inundated with information implicating hundreds of regions across the genome that harbor rare and common risk variants for disorders of the brain” (Nature Neuroscience, June 2014, Volume 17, No. 6, pp. 745-889).

Many questions and doubts arise in the philosophical contemplation of the intersection of human meaning, genetics and neuroscience. We want to reflect upon these emerging anthropological and bioethical issues from the perspective of our cultures and religions.

 

Workshop Methodology

 

The following papers will be commissioned:

 

  1. One expert from each of the seven religious groups will write and present a paper (approx. ten pages) that must be submitted three months before the workshop addressing some specific aspects of the topic that will be pointed out by our Scientific Committee.

 

  1. A second expert of the same tradition will be assigned to respond to the above paper (approx. 4-5 pages) and submit it before the workshop.

 

  1. A third expert from a different tradition will be assigned to respond to the above paper (approx. 4-5 pages) and submit it before the workshop.

 

  1. The language of the workshop is English. Participants of the workshop include:

 

  1. a) Experts from the various religions who have written and submitted the papers. They are expected to have read the other papers before attending the workshop. During each workshop session, they will give a 15-minutes summary of their papers followed by the two eight minutes critiques and an ample period of discussion, clarification, and questions from other authors.

 

  1. b) Academics interested in the workshop may also participate in the sessions, after approval by the organizing committee (send requests to jtham@unescobiochair.org). They can raise questions only after the group above has completed its discussions.

 

  1. Before submission for eventual publication, the participants may modify their papers in light of the dialogue of our three-day meeting.

 

It is hoped that these discussions will provide a clear and thorough understanding of each religious tradition´s understanding of the bioethical topic we in the light of human rights.

 

Public conference

 

As means of publicity and involvement of multiple and diverse scientific, medical and university communities and the public we propose to organize during the week in Houston an event open to the public on topics related to bioethics issues in the light of human rights in a multicultural and multireligious environment.

 

In this event, experts in the workshop will provide academic lectures or presentations for educational purposes on bioethics and human rights.  We will encourage participation of the outside community including public authorities, doctors and other healthcare personnel, patients, teachers, university scholars and students, and anyone interested in these relevant topics. The workshop and conference are primarily academic and apolitical, even though we encourage participation of all.

 

Bioethics Art Exhibition

 

During the days of the workshop and conference events, the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights will have an art exhibition of the winning artworks of our Bioethics Art Competition from 2011 (1st edition) and 2013 (2nd edition). We´ll also exhibit the winners of the 2015 (3rd edition) competition that began in February 2015 inviting participating artists to “express the gift of healing: body, mind and spirit”.

 

These 2011 and 2013 art exhibits were very successfully showed in several art venues and institutions: in the United States (at the UN Headquaters in New York and in Houston, Texas), in Rome, Hong Kong and Mexico City. These art exhibits  are a related cultural activity and a medium to illustrate universal values related to bioethics in the light of human rights. The mission of this competition as well as the themes and pictures of these works of art can be found at: www.bioethicsart.org.

 

This art exhibit will open with a public ceremony to open to explain the works of art in order to involve talented students and scholars of the next edition of the competition that is tentatively scheduled to be launched December 2016 (theme to be announced) with a deadline for artists of June 2017

 

 

Co-organizers

 

  • UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights

 

We are proud to have several Houston scholars involved in the workshops and several prestigious Texas institutions interested in participating, co-organizing  and/or sponsoring these scientific and cultural events:

 

  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Institute for Spirituality and Health
  • Rice University
  • The University of Texas, McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics
  • The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • University of Houston
  • University of St. Thomas

 

 

Organizing committee

 

Alberto Garcia, UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights, Rome

Joseph Tham, LC, UNESCO Chair

Gonzalo Miranda, LC, UNESCO Chair

Colleen Gallagher, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston

John Lunstroth, University of Houston

Chris Durante, St. John´s University, NYC

 

Coordinator:  Alberto Garcia  agarcia@unescobiochair.org