- Qiu Renzong, Ph.D.
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 80 Xinkai Lu, Dongdan, Beijing, CHINA 100005
Perhaps, most of you will agree with me that the meeting is fruitful and successful. It provides a chance for us to learn from each other, and we did. The presentations at the meeting are informative and discussions are challenging. It seems that there are so many topics in which all of us are interested, and there is so much we have to talk with each other, we always feel the time is not enough. The time of discussion was so limited. It is a shortcoming of this meeting. But it shows that the meeting is very necessary and it is a beginning of the further dialogue between colleagues from our East Asian Region and other regions. It also shows that a lot of work have been done and a great progress has been made in the field of bioethics in this region. However, at the same time there are sill a lot of emergent or urgent issues which remain to be solved or have to be addressed further. We need a second and third meeting in the future.
Many important issues have been discussed at this meeting: rights, autonomy and informed consent, death, euthanasia and advanced directives, genetics and ethics, goals of medicine, bioethics education and others. However, the issue which always perplexed the meeting, I think, is "bioethics and culture" in relation to the dichotomy between universalism versus relativism, and that of "Eastern" versus "Western". After the meeting, perhaps, we can reach some conclusions. For example, the ethical relativism which is self-defeating and leads to lots of absurd consequences needs much reflection, as Prof. Dan Wikler argued in his keynote address. It can lead to justification of slavery, the Nazi Holocaust etc. The meaning of some terms has to be further clarified, such as "Western bioethics" or "Eastern bioethics", because there is cultural diversity both in "West" and in "East". For example, from Chinese or other Third World country's point of view, our neighbour Japan was taken as Western country in some aspects at some times, but taken as an Asian country in other aspects at other times. I prefer the term a paradigm of bioethics invented or shaped in Judeo-Christian culture or in Chinese culture. Perhaps, we can conclude that:
1) Bioethicists from different cultures can learn from each other and can have inter- or cross-cultural discussion on which common ground or a common framework can be formed. This common ground will be enlarged and the common frameworks will be improved with further deeper discussions. Our meeting itself confirms the conclusion. In this sense bioethics from different cultures are not incompatible, as Dr. Gillon argued. In this sense we can talk about international bioethics or global ethics. Perhaps, we had better put aside the term "ethical universalism", because it may be misleading.
2) The forming of common ground does not mean that there is only one paradigm of bioethics. So I also think we should not use the term "unity" or "unified", it may make us recall "monism". I think bioethics should be pluralistic, but not anarchistic, not "anything goes", as the late philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend claimed, only "something goes". That means bioethics is a normative endeavour. Surveys, questionnaires, case studies and descriptive work are important and indispensable for preventing bioethics becoming something in an ivory tower, but more important is action: we have to do something to make things better or improve something, and descriptive work will provide an empirical basis for our appropriate action. I think, Marx is right when he said that philosophy should not only explain the world, and more important is to change the world. Plurality or diversity of paradigms of bioethics will keep it ever-developing and ever-flourishing.
Diversity means that there are many things we cannot reach agreement on now. Don't worry. We seek common ground while preserving differences. We can talk further next time. What we need to presuppose is that each culture has its merits and shortcomings, no culture can pretend that bioethics based on our culture is the best one, and all others are valueless or meaningless, and we should respect other cultures, try to understand them, be tolerant about what we think is wrong in other cultures and be patient for the change of negative elements of it. If we can do it, there will be no second ex-Yugoslavia.
Our meeting is only a beginning of mutual understanding in the East Asian region and between our region and the other parts of the world. Many topics were not addressed enough or at all, and many persons we would have liked to be here could not participate. I hope it will be a promising beginning for further dialogue and communication between us. For this purpose we should have an organisation to do it. This will be discussed at the working meeting after the closing session.
Finally, on behalf of the Organizing Committee, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and myself, I express my heartfelt gratitude to the Nihon University under the presidentship of Professor Yoshio Sezai and the Chinese Medical Association under the presidentship of Professor Cao Zeyi for their support of the conference, to Professor Sakamoto's initiative and programming work, to all invited speakers, especially, the president of the International Association of Bioethics, Prof. Dan Wikler, its Vice President, Prof. Alastair Campbell, its Treasurer, Dr Helga Huhse, editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics, Dr. Raanan Gillon, to all Japanese colleagues, to all colleagues who came from Korea, the Philippines, India, Israel, the mainland of China and Hong Kong for your informative presentations and active participation. And on behalf of all participants and myself I and would like to thank our interpreters for their excellent work, and thank Ms. Lin Xuegin, Mr. Chen Chao and Yang Min for their patient work before and during the conference.