Third International Bioethics, Multiculturalism and Religion Workshop and Conference

Hong Kong, China SAR, December 3-5, 2013


Two international conferences and workshop on “Bioethics, Multiculturalism and Religion” were held in Jerusalem (2009) and Rome (2011).  These academic activities 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 were 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 an actively-advancing medical, legal and technological environment.

By gathering experts from these religions, a rare space of 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.   Such dialogue and encounters allow us to see the other as our brothers and sisters in our common humanity.   This is more urgent in our globalized reality, and can eliminate suspicions that are sometimes causes of distrust and even violence.


Article 12 of the UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights (2005) states: “The importance of cultural diversity and pluralism should be given due regard. However, such considerations are not to be invoked to infringe upon human dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms, nor upon the principles set out in this Declaration, nor to limit their scope.”

During the 2011 Rome workshop focused on the Principle of Vulnerability of the aforementioned declaration, 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.  This is somewhat foreign to major religions where the self does not exist in isolation, but is normally immersed in a web of relations—family, friends, religious community, and society.

The emphasis on human rights was critiqued as predominantly a Western liberal ideal, which in bioethics is translated to mean patient autonomy and free choice.  Eastern religions tend to focus more on duties than on rights.  This is not to say that individual rights are unimportant.  In today’s democratic societies, laws have been drafted to protect individuals and communities against slavery, discrimination, torture or genocide.  Yet, it appears unclear at what moment universal rights supersede respect for cultural diversity and pluralism.  Some of the bioethics experts are still uncertain about the existence of universal rights and what they consists.

This workshop will focus on human rights and duties as they affect the life sciences, healthcare and the appropriate use of technology in these fields. The subjects involved in these issues are primarily researchers and physicians as well as patients and research subjects. Knowledge, respect, recognition and guarantee of the rights of these individuals and their corresponding duties will be analyzed from multicultural and different religious perspectives.

This meeting will consist in a two-day workshop where bioethics experts from Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism will gather to discuss the meaning and implications of these issues.  The third day would be an open conference for the public. The collection of these papers will result in the publication of a book. See speaker list.


The following papers will be commissioned:

  1. One expert from each of the 7 religious groups will write and present a paper (approx. 10-page) that must be submitted on August 31, 2013 addressing:
    1. Understanding of human rights and duties from their respective traditions
    2. Conflicts of human rights claims and accepted religious practices in their respective traditions
    3. Can human rights be universal?  What are the challenges in the fields of healthcare and life sciences, especially in relation to the UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

The workshop will be held on December 3-5, 2013 in Hong Kong. The language of the workshop is English.  Participants of the workshop include:

  1. Experts from the 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 minute summary of their papers followed by the two 8 minute critiques and an ample period of discussion, clarification, and questions from other authors.
  2. Academics interested in the workshop may also participate in the sessions, after approval by the organizing committee.  (Send requests They can raise questions only after the above group has exhausted the discussions.

It is hoped that these discussions will provide a clear and thorough understanding of each religious tradition on their understanding of human rights.  Their papers may also be modified based on this dialog before submission for eventual publication.

Public conferences

There is a need to explore the issues of human rights in the context of family in the local Hong Kong situation.  Human rights have often been used as a slogan or rhetoric for political ends, without a true understanding it can become misused. Similarly, the concept of family has been usurped by the human rights language to promote alternative forms of cohabitation. In response, on two evenings during the workshop, experts will provide open academic conferences for educational purposes of human rights and family.  We will encourage participation of the public including public authorities, political parties, teachers, university students, and anyone interested in these relevant topics.  The conferences are primarily academic and apolitical, even though we encourage participation of politicians and human right activists. There will be simultaneous translation into Cantonese and English.

The first panel will address the meaning and importance of family in the context of human rights by the major religious representatives in Hong Kong, to be held on the evening of December 2, 2013: Buddhists, Catholics, Confucians, Daoists, Muslims and Protestants.

The second public conference will be held on the evening of December 4, 2013, on the topics of:

  • Human Rights and the Human Family
  • Human Rights and the Relational Self


UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights

Hong Kong Baptist University: Department of Religion and Philosophy, Centre for Applied Ethics, Centre for Sino-Christian Studies.

Organizing committee

Alberto Garcia, Director of the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights

Gonzalo Miranda, LC, Fellow of the UNESCO Chair

Joseph Tham, LC, Fellow of the UNESCO Chair

Lo Ping Cheung, Department of Religion and Philosophy, Hong Kong Baptist University

Kwan Kai Man, Department of Religion and Philosophy, Hong Kong Baptist University

Eddie Ho, representative of Woofo Enterprise


Wofoo Social Enterprises


Joseph Tham, LC

Advisory Board

Mustafa Abu Sway, Al Quds University, Jerusalem

Ricardo di Segni, Chief Rabbi of Rome, Italy

Colleen Gallagher, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, USA

Christian Hervé, Université René Descartes, Paris, France

Ping Cheung Lo, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong, China

Henk Ten Have, Duquesne University, Pittsburg, USA

Stamatios Tzitzis, Université Panthéon Assas Paris II, France