Letter from Kyoto - International Bioethics and the North-South Problem

- Masahiro Morioka,

International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Nishikyo, Kyoto, Japan 610-11.

Eubios Ethics Institute Newsletter 4 (March, 1994) 16.

In the previous Newsletter, I talked about international bioethics and criticized Professor Sakamoto's "eastern bioethics." I believe it is nonsense to see to day's global health problems from the viewpoint of the "east-west" framework which was created in the 19th century Europe.

The most important problem in international bioethics is not the east/west cultural gap nor Asian/European philosophical differences, but the North-South problem in health care conditions and the basic human rights. For example, in the "North" countries, in vitro fertilization and related technologies create many ethical problems. We are often crazed with debates on how far we should accept such high-tech medicine in human reproductive process. In the "South" countries, however, the most urgent ethical problem in human reproduction is not the acceptance of in vitro fertilization technique, but how to prepare the basic health conditions for not letting babies die on account of bad sanitary conditions and poor nutrition. In some "South" countries, a number of people are faced with starvation. Many people and children are killed by civil wars. In those countries the most important bioethical issue is to save the lives of people from starvation and wars.

International bioethics has an obligation to think about this South-North problem earnestly because it is us who created the fundamental South-North structure by centuries' long exploitations based on Colonialism. European countries, the United States, and this Century's Japan have committed this exploitation. International bioethics must face this historical fact and try to find an way of resolving the North-South problem in global heath care settings.

This means that we are faced with a severe question whether it is really possible to resolve the structural gap and discrimination between rich groups (nations) and poor groups (nations). We have already known the difficulty of doing this through the activities for resolving today's global environmental crisis. The governments of rich countries, for example the United States, have refused to reduce the level of energy consumption to even that of middle rich nations.

Is it possible to overcome this kind of egoism existing within us? While discussing whether we should save the life of a handicapped fetus of a middle class "North" couple, a great number of babies and children are killed by poor nutrition, typhoons, and civil wars in "South" countries. How should international bioethics think about this? I haven't heard an answer to this question yet. On this point, I believe, bioethics has to leave the realm of "applied ethics" and come back to the real contemplation of "Ethics."

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