What is our bioethics?

- Darryl Macer
Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Tsukuba,
Tsukuba Science City 305-8572, Japan
Email: asianbioethics@yahoo.co.nz

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 11 (2001), 1-2.
Happy New Year. I am writing this editorial, the first in the year 2001, using a voice dictation system. Is; this the sign of the future and further recognition of the new partner species to human beings, the computer?; What challenges do we have for the coming century when we reflect on the meaning of human existence as one species in this planet.

Although there has been much debate on the power of new biotechnology and genetic engineering to enable us to create designer human beings, to complement already the designer plants and animals and microorganisms that we find in our everyday life as we begin the year 2001, the completely new species of intelligent machines will be an issue that we must explore in the future. As reported in page 2 of this issue by Nudeshima and Morioka there has been a law made on human cloning in Japan. However in this law there is acceptance of certain types of cloning, that may surprise some conservative persons in bioethics. Even more we will have to confront the combining of human and silicon into a new creation in the coming decades.

In the November, 2000 issue of EJAIB we saw interesting reflections on Japanese human experimentation in China in World War 2 by Tsuchiya, and a commentary by Morioka. In that paper the question of the relationship between an Asian Bioethics and conditions to allow gross human experimentation torture and murder were explored. In this issue of EJAIB we see a Chinese perspective by Nie, a recently joined member of the editorial board, on the challenges for bioethics posed by the human experiments in China, which seeks to examine the relationship between the moral tradition in eastern Asia and the atrocities that were committed. It calls for East Asian Bioethics, and in fact global bioethics, to seriously consider the background of these experiments. In German experiments at the same time we saw the emergence of the Nuremberg Code which attempted to stop such human experiments. However as is commonly known in bioethics, the United States and Western Europe, did continue to violate human rights in medical research and experiments even though they claimed that these should never occur again. What have we learned? I wonder.

In the paper in this issue we also read that Chinese academics did not consider this issue of Japanese war crimes in the human experiments seriously as a research topic. Of course in Japanese bioethics the topic has generally been forgotten or dismissed and therefore the paper in a November 2000 issue by Takashi is significant. I expect we will have further papers, from readers on the implications of re-examining our past because we have still much to learn. As is written in the paper in this issue, in the Cultural Revolution of China we saw further human atrocities which may shock and surprise readers both in Asia and internationally. Bioethics must learn from the past even though we're faced with what looks like new issues. We must protect human rights and the dignity of the future subjects of the human experimentation whether they are clones or cyborgs or computers who we can communicate and to think together with.

Following the paper we have a comment also examining whether Asian Bioethics is to blame. I think it is clear that atrocities of this type happen everywhere, however usually they happen in times of unusual cultural pressure and change. For example,e we can remember the ancient Egyptian experiments to discover the nervous system by serial sectioning of living human beings up the vertebrae, in what would be condemned then and everywhere as unethical human vivisection. That event happened in the time between a change in Egyptian values to Greek values, and similarly for the twentieth century examples by Germany and Japan, no one can consider living under wartime conditions to be normal. There is in need to continually reevaluate what we do to other living beings, and no one can claim to be an innocent moral judge. Readers may or may not know that the United States used the knowledge gained from the covered up Japanese experiments in China for testing biological warfare agents in North Korea in 1952. The design for the bombs was taken from what had been developed by Japan in China. Paradoxically here we see the development of technology in Japan and its use and improvement in the United States, the reverse of what is commonly said to happen with technology, and with values. However the values that allow people to contemplate killing other people seem to be universal.

Another lesson is that in times when atrocities are committed normally the subjects of the atrocity are called not human, and different words are used the action. For example the Japanese in China called the subjects maruta, "logs of wood". It is much easier to treat people as non human if we are to abuse of them. So we must always be careful never to forget that all human beings human, like us, and have human rights. Clearly reflection upon the abuses in Japan and China and other parts of Asia, for example Cambodia, leads us to the conclusion that human rights must be respected in every country. Least us forget the other species on this planet to whom also have the desire to live free of harassment and abuse, and in the circle of moral agents, which is becoming larger we hope that more and more species will be included in the moral circle of human beings.

Also in this issue of the EJAIB we see a paper on ethical codes in medical research by Bagheri and broad role of ethics committees in protection of human subjects. The comment is made that within each culture of them must be some cultural norms that may add extra considerations for ethical review. However, we should never allow our cultural norms to take away protection of human rights. This is one of the lessons of the 20th century that should never be forgotten. Paper in this issue looks at the cross cultural relationship between science and bioethics and we could also consider the term interactive ethics as meaning a similar constructivist approach for ethics.

Having mentioned the cautious approaches and lessons I also have published a paper asking us to consider Hedonic engineering and arguing that human beings will go wherever they like. This will further challenge the limits of human ethics, and I think the basic condition is that whoever is born in this world (or visitors for that matter!) must be given equal human rights. Then a paper by Sheriff on whether ethics can be taught.; I hope that the papers in this issue make us think.

I would like to greet everyone and wish you a good 2001, which may be an odyssey in many ways, however let us consider the space we have on this planet first. One new activity with is my participation in a daily bioethics news update which can be found on the Internet (http://ajobonline.com/). For those who have paid their annual subscription, thank-you very much for your support and we look forward to continuing active debate in the pages of this Journal.

- - Darryl Macer


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