by Dr. Joseph Tham
Members of the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights and the School of Bioethics of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum participated in the International Association of Bioethics World Congress of Bioethics held in Edinburgh, Scotland June 14-17.
Around 700 delegates from around the world converged to discuss the emerging questions in the field of bioethics. The participants came from many parts of the world and represented many leading bioethics institutions including the Hasting Center, Nuffield Council of Bioethics, and academic institutions such as Harvard, Oxford, Peking, Barcelona, Johns Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Tubingen, Manchester, Kyoto, UCLA, National University of Singapore, to name a few.
The UNESCO Chair participated with a presentation of a symposium on “Global Bioethics, Human Rights and Religions.” As the abstract states:
Global bioethics is an emerging concept. In 2005 the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights was passed by the acclamation of 193 states. In spite of that, some critics argue that ethical relativism is so deeply engrained it prevents the emergence of substantive universal norms, permitting only procedural approaches to shared norms. We question that conclusion. An examination of the notions of rights, duties and dignity in the major religious traditions suggests that there may be paths, through those concepts, to substantive normative convergence. If rights and duties are seen as a unitary thing then their ideological functions will not play such a prominent role in divisiveness among the traditions, but the unified concept(s) could encourage convergence towards norms acceptable to all traditions.
Alberto García, director of the UNESCO Chair spoke on the possibility and challenges of fostering convergence of human rights and duties among different religious traditions. Colleen Gallagher from the Center of Integrated Ethics of the MD Anderson Cancer Center shared with the audience the experience of a global bioethical approach in local health provider environment, where appreciation of cultural and religious diversity can be an important factor of good patient care. Fr. Joseph Tham, Dean of the School of Bioethics, analyzed the contribution of a cross-cultural perspective of natural law that can be supportive of global bioethics. Chris Durante of NYU proposes a methodology of dialogue among diverse ethical positions that are respectful of the religio-cultural differences without yielding to moral relativism.
Yvonne Denbina who heads the Bioethics Art initiative of the UNESCO Chair, also brought and exhibited five pieces of artworks that were winners of the 2015 Bioethics Art Competition. This was in response to the Arts and Ethics section of the IAB conference held in Edinburgh.
After days of hard work and attendance in this conference venue, the team members were also able to spend some time enjoying the artistic treasures, culture, history and culinary specialties of this enchanting city.
Below are a set of abstracts of the four presentations Chair members presented during the congress:
Convergence of Human Rights and Duties: Towards a Global Bioethics
Prof. Alberto Garcia JD
Director. UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights. Rome. Italy
Global bioethics is an emerging concept. In 2005 the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights was passed by the acclamation of 193 states. In spite of that, some critics argue that ethical relativism is so deeply ingrained it prevents the emergence of substantive universal norms, permitting only procedural approaches to shared norms. We question that conclusion. An examination of the notions of rights, duties and dignity in the major religious traditions suggests that there may be paths, through those concepts, to substantive normative convergence. If rights and duties are seen as a unitary thing then their ideological functions will not play such a prominent role in divisiveness among the traditions, but the unified concept(s) could encourage convergence towards norms acceptable to all traditions.
How Contradictions in the Ius Gentium are reflected in the UNESCO Approach to Bioethics
John Lunstroth, JD
The UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights (2005) purports to be soft international law. It seeks to achieve that status procedurally, through member state consent, and substantively, by numerous references to ius gentium, especially human rights. The ius gentium though consists of several competing normative systems each of which strives to dominate the others. In practice the dominant organizing principle or Aristotelian order (constitution) of the international community is oligarchy. Roughly accommodated within it are several other complex normative orders: science; human rights; humanitarianism; public health; development; and constitutionalism (sovereignty). The positive law of human rights is split at the highest level between the liberalism of the ICCPR and the socialism of the ICESCR. It is thus imprudent to seek soft law status for bioethical norms by wholesale reference to human rights. UNESCO should recognize bioethical norms as subsidiary, and seek to anchor them in specific international rights, e.g. freedom of conscience.
Dialogue despite Diversity: Sharing Norms When Our Moralities Differ
Chris Durante, PhD
Fellow, UNESCO Chair in Bioethics & Human Rights
Visiting Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, Manhattan College
This paper lays the foundations of a bioethical methodology intended to cope with the issues of moral diversity and religio-cultural pluralism without losing site of the fact that bioethics emerged out of the need for shared moral guidelines and rigorous ethical analysis of novel medical technologies. The method being proposed involves a discursive process that is able to quest for consensus while simultaneously maintaining a respect for, and making possible the accommodation of, incommensurable moral and ontological differences amongst religious traditions and philosophical systems and, is intended to contribute new insights into the processes of bioethical inquiry, deliberation and policy formation. Begotten from a diverse array of perspectives, the positions produced by this method have the potential to be more adequately representative of our multicultural and religiously diverse society and hence, can help produce bioethical policies that protect persons from potential harms without overriding their freedom of belief.
Natural Law and Global Bioethics
Fr. Joseph Tham, MD, PhD
Dean, School of Bioethics, Pontificio Ateneo Regina Apostolorum, Rome, Italy
This paper looks at the challenges of ethical behaviors in a global village. Medical tourism, organ trafficking, and gender selective abortions are seen as violations of universal human rights by international standards. Nonetheless, others have questioned whether human rights might not be neo-colonialism in disguise. The natural law tradition analyzed in The Search for Universal Ethics: A New Look at Natural Law seeks to address the perennial problem of universality and particularism in ethics. It proposes rationality as the common ground for human rights and dignity, thus avoiding the simple solution of consensus ethics, without conflating multicultural and multi-religious settings with ethical relativism. The paper will also address the question of the incommensurability of ethical traditions raised by Alasdair MacIntyre. While shunning cultural relativism, he recommends mutual understanding of rival moral traditions through in-depth rational debates and encounters in order to arrive at the most valid moral system.