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7.1. Asian Bioethics in Global Society

- Jayapaul Azariah, Ph.D.
Founder President, All India Bioethics Association.
New No. 4, 8th Lane. Indiranagar,
Chennai 600 020, India.


Civilizations were centered in different geographical locations of the world. Once Babylon and Egypt were seats of human civilization. Then the Greek and the Roman civilizations dominated the world during the time of Jesus Christ. Prior to Roman era there were three other cultures/civilizations. They are the Hebrew culture that emerged as the Israel, the Vedic civilization/culture that transformed as the Hinduism and Tamil Dravidian culture that were nature-worshipers (Azariah, 2001). Besides these there were was the extinct Harappan and other civilizations. Due to Industrial Revolution during the 18th century the epicenter of modernity has shifted to the west. As a result it has been frequently claimed that west is the cradle of bioethics. Such a division and polarization is unfortunate in the interest of global bioethics. Bioethics is one. Our current problems are also common to humanity and therefore our concern should be one.

Both science and religion are human made. All the environmental problems are also man made. In order to face these problems humanity needs a base. Hitherto religion served as a suitable base to contain the ill effects of human developmental activities. Hence the biodiversity and natural ecosystems were maintained (Azariah, 1994 a, b). However, due to the advancement of science and technology religion has lost its suitability to serve as a base and no other suitable replacement has been made! But the possibility still exists to recognize spirituality, though not religion per se, as the common underlying factor.

The issues that are raised due to science and technology, during this third and the new millennium are so different that humanity is now engaged in a search for a new paradigm, namely from mere bioethics to new bioethics. The present paper attempts to cull out the richness of the ancient Asian bioethically oriented culture and examines whether these ancient precepts and practices can serve as a means to bring about an improvement in the quality of life in global society.

It is often said that the concept of bioethics was born in the developing countries due to the ills of industrial revolution and it is a luxury for/to the developing world. But the ancient cultural and religious practices of Asia are a witness for many bioethical principles. Asia has a rich heritage of ethical culture, which preserved the human society for 4000 years. The ancient Sanskrit language had a word "SILA" which is etymologized as meaning "attainment of coolness". When persons possess ethics, their minds have peacefulness or coolness, free from the heat of regretting what they have done. Similarly, the Tamil word "ARAM" means ethics.

In Sri Lanka "the first mass tree planting on record dates back to the region of Mutasiva (310-250 BC). The oldest historical tree in the world today was planted at Anuradhapura by the Kind Rivanapiya Tissa" (250-210) and has been "very carefully nurtured through a royal endowment through out the pasta 2230 years or more" (Bahuguna 1994). Ancient Indian cultural practices like "stalaviruscgam" in which the dominant tree of a region is attached to a temple and consequently the development of sacred grooves are major steps in environmental management as well as environmental ethics (Azariah, 1994a).

Similarly, the ancient Indian knowledge is praiseworthy. Incidences recorded in Indian scriptures about the narration of Krishna to his pregnant sister, Subhathtra about the details of breaking a complex military formation, which was heard by the fetus, named Abhimanyu and the fetus responded to the narration. Krishna stopped his account abruptly without providing information on the method of escape, once the complex military formation was broken. Abhimanyu, in his teens, broke the complex Chakaravyha formation but was killed, as he did not know the way to come out of it. This epic story implies that the fetus in the womb is capable of listening and understanding the essence of the conversation and implementing the same after birth. The fetus can learn and reason out (Azariah, 1998 a). In the same epic, Queen Kandhari, the wife of the King Dhritrashtra was pregnant. However, the early embryo in the womb was split into one hundred parts by a punch. Each bit was kept in an earthen vessel and one hundred sons were born. (Minakshi and Azariah, 1998). This story is an example of their knowledge on the potency of the human embryo and the possibility of multiple cloning. Hence the Vedic people may have formulated such laws governing the extraction of fetus and laws regulating abortion. they also had their own moral code of ethical conduct of physicians (Pillai 1963), which read as follows: "A good physician must be a person of strict veracity and of the greatest sobriety and decorum, holding intercourse with no women but his own. He ought to be well versed in all commentaries of Ayul Vedham or the Science of Life and he otherwise be a man of sense and benevolence. His heart must be charitable, his temper calm and his constant study must be to do good to the people. He must be mild and courageous, frank, communicative, impartial and liberal, yet ever rigid in exacting an adherence to regimen or rules".

However, the ancient Indian medical science emphasized that a physician must have a wide knowledge of other sciences also (Bhisagacarya, 1994). A Susruta (a verse) mentions, "Any one who knows only a single science, cannot have true knowledge of that science, hence a physician should be well versed in many other sciences besides the science of medicine" (Susruta Samhita, I. iv). It is indeed remarkable to notice that "there were no fewer than twenty-six forms of medicine, including powders, extracts and boluses, decoctions and infusions in water and milk, syrups, expressions, distillations, fermentations and medicated oils, many of them crude enough in their exhibition but wondrously efficacious in the respective ailments, for which they were designed" (Bhisagacarya, 1994). Other monographs on Caraka Samhita (medicine) and Susrutha Samhita (surgery) are vital testimonies for their remarkable skill in medical sciences (Azariah, 1988b).

With the rapid advancement of modern science and technology new problems are introduced into human society. The dictum 'Technology is power" is replacing the familiar enigmatic statement "Knowledge is power". The new issues that face, humanity due to biotechnological revolution are in the field of genetic engineering by which nature can be modified by human technology. The biotic components will be replaced by "species of design". Current issues that are raised by science and technology are: environmental pollution, water resource management, Globalization, Intellectual property rights, genetic engineering (GE), genetically modification of organism/living modified organism (GMO), genetically modified food and food products, gene therapy, cloning, status of the embryo, genetic screening of human pre-embryos, human stem cell research, genetic sex selection, female feticide, infant feticide, assisted reproductive technology like In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Embryo transfer and surrogate motherhood, biological parenthood, euthanasia, problems of the elderly population, and Child - use and abuse.

Current technological development appears to seek to deny life of its self-fulfillment since it tends to be a technology of manipulation, control and profit. It disrupts the patterns of nature and brings polarization between communities and destroys personal and community health. Furthermore, postmodern science based civilization has rooted out the existing base i.e. religion without providing an alternate base for transfer of values and norms for the good functioning of the communities. Such a development is a challenge. Therefore, humanity stands in need of finding a suitable approach to find a proper base.

An approach to a problem can be (a) knowledge based (b) basic need based (c) ideological and (d) technology based. In section (a) it is scientific knowledge and spiritual knowledge. In section (b) it is divisible into food and the environment. In section (c) one is concerned with the anthropocentric or non-anthropocentric idealism or realism. In section (d) it is skill based i.e. technological quick fix. For the present consideration, the spiritual approach is emphasized. Azariah (1994 c) recognized that the path of spirituality consists of (I) happiness (ii) beauty (iii) co-existence and (iv) value nature.

Since September Eleventh of 2002, the course of human existence has been put under stress. Education was so far considered as a means to achieve a desired end. However, we need to have a paradigm shift in our approach. We need to replace the existing words like "cell" and "network" with other words that are spiritual in its outlook. This approach will provide a suitable base for developing a global ethics for a global society. There are two approaches namely (a) the top down and (b) the bottom up approaches. In developing a global bioethics there is an urgent need to employ both the approaches. Besides it is desirable to have "bioethics fellowship groups" and volunteers groups. There should be intensive teaching to train the human mind and attitudes. Such an attempt should be supported with the development of suitable textbooks so that the mind of humans be directed towards spiritual goals that will enable the coexistence of humanity as a community. If we want to establish global bioethics in our biosphere then the message of bioethics should percolate to the masses. It should transform into peoples' movement. It is our common hope (Azariah, 1994 a).

The plan of action is summarized in the diagram on the following page, and with a poem. Richard Barbe Baker was a forester in Kenya and was responsible for the formation of the organization "Men of the Trees" in 1922. He wrote a "prayer for the Trees" (Bahuguna, 1994):

We thank the Oh God, for the Trees,
Thou comest very near to us
Through thy trees
From them we have
Beauty, wisdom, love
The air we breathe,
The water we drink, the food we eat
And the strength,
Help us, Oh god!
To give our best to life
And leave the world a little more beautiful
And worthy for having lived in it,
Prosper thou our planting,
And establish they Kingdom of love
And understanding on Earth. Amen.

Bioethics builds - Terrorism destroys

7.1 Figure


Azariah, J. 1994 a Global Bioethics and Common Hope. 1. Ecology, Religion and Spirituality Mode - A key stone to ecobalance. IN Bioethics for the people by the people. Ed. Darryl R.J. Macer. Eubios Ethics Institute. NZ/Japan. 98 -104
Azariah, J. 1994 b, Global Bioethics and Common Hope. 2. Eastern Environmental Ethics and Conceptual Resource Transfer. IN Bioethics for the people by the people. Ed. Darryl R.J. Macer. Eubios Ethics Institute. NZ/Japan. 104-112.
Azariah, J. 1994 c, Global Bioethics and Common Hope. 3. Biophilosophy of the Biosphere and the Darwinian Paradigm. IN Bioethics for the people by the people. Ed. Darryl R.J. Macer. Eubios Ethics Institute. NZ/Japan. 112 - 124.
Azariah, J 1998 a Status of human life in/and foetus in Hindu, Christian and Islamic Scriptures. IN Bioethics in India. Eds. J.Azariah, H. Azariah and D.J. Macer. Eubios Ethics Institute. NZ. PP 52-56.
Azariah, J. 1998 b Incomplete History of Bioethics AIBA Newslink 1: (6) 2-3.
Azariah, J. 2001 Forward looking universal bioethics: Polytheism and Monotheism. EJAIB 11: 157-159.
Bahuguna, Sunder Lal, 1994 Towards Basic Changes in Land use. IN Tribal Economy Health and Wasteland Development. Ed. N. Mahanti. Inter India Publications. New Delhi 208-219.
Bhisagacarya, G, M 1994 History of Indian Medicine. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi. Volume 1. Pp 35-38.
Minakshi, B and J. Azariah., 1998 Does cloning mean new ethics. Paper presented at the International conference on "Ethics in Science and Medicine" VMKV Medical college, Salem. Abstract No. 2, p 20.
Pillai, M.S. P., 1963 Tamil India. The South India Saiva Siddhandha Publishing Society. Tinnevelly Publications. No 397. Pp 175.

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