When did "bioethics" begin in each country? A proposal of a comparative study

- Masahiro Morioka
CIAS, Osaka Prefecture University, Gakuencho, Sakai, Osaka, 599-8531 Japan

International Network for Life Studies http://www.lifestudies.org

Email: mail@lifestudies.org

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 13 (2003), 51-52.


Some people say that bioethics began in the USA and has spread around the world, but other people insist that bioethics has existed throughout the ages in every region (Macer, 1998). Which is right? Probably it depends on the definition of "bioethics."

1) If we define "bioethics" as a kind of philosophy or ethics of life and death, we can find a great deal of literature from ancient times in every region. From this perspective, "bioethics" can be seen as a contemporary version of philosophy or ethics of life and death.

2) If we define it as medical ethics, we can also find various ideas on ethics of medicine. There have been European, Chinese, Islamic, Hindu, Jewish traditions, etc. We have had a variety of discussions about euthanasia, abortion, healthy life, the use of medication, and so on.

3) If we define it as environmental ethics, we have also had various traditions throughout the world.

4) If we define it as the discussion of ethical issues arising from contemporary "advanced biomedical technology," such as organ transplantation, selective abortion, IVF and gene therapy, we can find such discussions from the 1960s to the present.

5) If we define it as the civil movement that claimed the rights of patients, women, and the members of minority groups, then again, such movements have appeared since the 1960s in many countries (Morioka 2002).

6) If we define it as an "academic" research and discussion, the United States of America would probably be one of the earliest countries to have institutionalized it as an academic discipline. Bioethics as an academic discipline emerged from the late 1970s to 1980s in the USA, but what about other countries?

I would like to propose a comparative study of the history of bioethics among countries or regions. Probably many interesting ideas and discussions will be found through the research.

In Japan, bioethics as (1)(2)(3) has existed from ancient times. The discussion of ethical issues arising from contemporary "advanced biomedical technology" began in 1968 when organ transplantation from a (pseudo) brain dead person was performed. In 1972, the Eugenic Protection Law Revision Bill was presented to the Diet, and ethics of selective abortion after amniocentesis began a heated political issue. In this year, women's liberation groups and a disabled group started movement against the revision, and they discussed a number of "bioethical" issues, though they did not use the word "bioethics." They discovered the problem of our "inner eugenic thought," which has become one of the main topics in today's Japanese bioethics. Hence, bioethics as (4)(5) began in the early 1970s in Japan, and in my view the crucial year was 1972.

Academic research started in the mid-1980s and we "imported" bioethics literature from English books and journals. Japanese Association for Bioethics was established in 1988. Academic Books and papers on bioethics began to emerge in this period. Hence, bioethics as (6) is considered to have begun in the late 1980s in Japan. It is interesting that the criticism of "bioethics as an academic discipline" has existed from the beginning. Some citizen groups have said that bioethics is a paradigm that only serves to justify the desire of scientists and people of power. (It is interesting that the subtitle of my first book, one of the first academic books on bioethics, published in 1988, was "Beyond Bioethics.") It is important to looking for alternative ideas to "bioethics as an academic discipline" in each country. It should also be noted that the journal of Eubios Ethics Institute (EJAIB) was first published in 1991 at Tsukuba, and we have had eight TRT international conferences.

I would like to ask you to give us information about the history of bioethics in your country or region. Papers, essays, or even comments are welcome. We would like to know the following points.

1) What are the definitions of "bioethics" in your country or region. We want to know not only mainstream ideas, but also minority ideas.

2) When did "bioethics" began and how it has developed.

3) What kinds of topics have been discussed in each stage.

4) What alternative ideas to "bioethics" have appeared. For example, what did anthropologists, sociologists, and philosophers argue about the discipline of "bioethics"? What kinds of frustrations have been expressed by them?

5) How did the word "bioethics" began to be used. How and by whom was the idea of "bioethics" constructed?

Please send your comments, essays, or papers to EJAIB (asianbioethics@yahoo.co.nz), or Masahiro Morioka (mail@lifestudies.org). They will be published in EJAIB and collected on a special page of my website, Comparative Study of the History of Bioethics (http://www.lifestudies.org/bioethics). And if you know any paper, hopefully written in English, that deals with this topic please let us know. This is a preliminary study. Please do not hesitate to join our project.

References
Debora Diniz, Dirce Bellezi Guilhem and Volnei Garrafa, Bioethics in Brazil, Bioethics 13:3/4, (1999): 244-248.

Violette Lindbeck, Biomedical Ethics Around the World. Thailand: Buddhism Meets the Western Model, Hastings Center Report December:24-26, 1997.

Darryl Macer, Bioethics is Love of Life (Eubios Ethics Institute, 1998).

Masahiro Morioka, Disability Movement and Inner Eugenic Thought: A Philosophical Aspect of Independent Living and Bioethics, Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 12 (May 2002), 94-97.

Research Project on Cultural Issues in Bioethics << http://chinabioethics.netfirms.com/bioethics/main/sino_germ/20021120081138.htm>>


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