Letter from Kyoto - Virtual or physical bioethics centers

- Masahiro Morioka,

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

Eubios Ethics Institute Newsletter 4 (November, 1994) 73.

In this issue Frank Leavitt reports the plan to establish the Asian Bioethics Center. It's our responsibility to create an international center or network in which people around the world study and discuss contemporary global issues on human life and the planet. What we have to now is to research on world-wide bioethical issues from various angles, and search for the key to solving these problems of our civilization. A center for bioethics will be of great help to this purpose. I hope his plan will be successful.

When I first read Frank's essay, a day-dream came to my mind. It was a dream of virtual (or non-place) center for Bioethics. Over the past few years the idea of "virtual reality" became popular. One of the points of the concept of "virtual reality" is that we can create a sort of "reality" in cyber-space that has no actual "place" in this three dimensional world. New words "virtual community" and "non-place community" were coined for representing the idea that there might be a community that has no place in this real world.

Computer-mediated virtual community has come to be partly realized by the international computer network, "InterNet." We can send mails and retrieve various kind of data through this network. Some day this Newsletter may be duplicated into a certain forum in InterNet. This is a way of realizing a non-pace bioethics community in cyber-space.

Another way of doing it is to plan a series of informal meetings that consist of intensive small-group discussions, and hold the meetings internationally, this time at Tsukuba, the next time in Israel, and so on. If we can hold these informal meetings periodically I think it be called a bioethics "center" that has no geographical place at all. Last year Darryl Macer held an informal round-table meeting at Tsukuba, where I discussed international bioethical issues with scholars around the world. That was an exciting experience for me. This could be a model for another virtual bioethics center.

Well, this is my day-dream because in order to do it we have to have money for covering member's travel expenses, and this is probably the most serious obstacle for this plan. Cheapest way is to create computer-mediated networks in InterNet, but our colleagues do not necessarily use computers. Relying on computers is sometimes discriminative to those who dislike high-tech civilization, and also to those who cannot afford computers for various reasons. In addition to that, we cannot meet face-to-face through today's computer networks. Seeing someone in this real world is still important in the coming cyber-space society.

Probably the combination of "on-line" communication and "off-line" meeting would be the best way to create an international bioethics forum in the 21st century. And as Frank says in his essay, "carrying the bricks" is also important for us. I agree with him on this point. I like computers, TV games, and virtual realities, but computers cannot give us the solutions and insights on matters of human life and death. - Masahiro Morioka, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Nishikyo, Kyoto, Japan 610-11.

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