Contribution of Asian Bioethics Association (ABA) to UNESCO IBC "Towards a Declaration on Universal Norms on Bioethics", for consideration at a meeting to be held at UNESCO House in Paris from 27 to 29 April 2004
(Prepared by Darryl Macer, and submitted and published in the materials of the UNESCO IBC meeting)
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 14 (2004), 101-103.
1. Asian Bioethics Association
The Asian Bioethics Association (ABA) is an international academic organization founded in 1995, and having members across the world. It has great interest in bioethics discussion, and in the work of UNESCO in bioethics. In our constitution we define "Bioethics is the interdisciplinary study of philosophical, ethical, social, legal, economic, medical, therapeutic, ethnological, religious, environmental, and other related issues arising from biological sciences and technologies, and their applications in human society and the biosphere.", and "Asia is the regions, peoples, and cultures which constitute the geographically largest continent of the world." We should note that many members, both individual and institutional, come from outside of Asia.
Article 3 (Objectives) states "The basic objective of the Association is to promote scientific research in bioethics in Asia through open and international exchanges of ideas among those working in bioethics in various fields of study and different regions of the world. In order to achieve this end the Association will encourage the following work and projects: (1) to organize and support international conferences in bioethics in Asia; (2) to assist the development and linkage of regional organizations for bioethics; (3) to encourage other academic and educational work or projects to accomplish their goals consistent with the objectives of the Association."
The current Board includes persons from different cultures:
President: Renzong Qiu (China)
Vice President for China: Xiaomei Zhai
Vice President for India: Jayapaul Azariah
Vice President for Japan: Noritoshi Tanida
Vice President for Korea: Sang-yong Song
Vice President for West Asia (West of India): Sahin Aksoy (Turkey)
Vice-President for South Asia (East of India, excluding other named regions): Leonardo de Castro (Philippines) (in his absence)
Vice President for Asian Ethnic and Religious Minorities (e.g. Jews, Kurds, other ethnic groups or religious minorities): Frank Leavitt (Israel)
Secretary: Darryl Macer (Japan/New Zealand)
Founding President: Hyakudai Sakamoto (Japan).
We also have country representatives in many regions and countries not represented formally on the Board.
Contact point under the constitution is the secretariat: Contact: Darryl Macer, Ph.D., Director, Eubios Ethics Institute; P.O. Box 125, Tsukuba Science City 305-8691, Japan
Eubios Ethics Institute http://eubios.info/index.html
Asian Bioethics Association http://eubios.info/ABA.htm
2. Comments on Aims and Scope of a Declaration on Universal Norms on Bioethics
1) The existence of a Declaration would highlight attention upon ethical implications of scientific progress, and it could be a tool used by persons at all levels suggested. It is unclear whether it would help better "assess" the ethical issues because of a diverse way of viewing ethics, and because we have found a wide range of ethical codes and norms in different professions and in different member countries. We note that one of the most typical Asian ethical norms may be to recognize diversity of decisions that individuals and societies can take about these bioethical issues, which in itself, is a worthy Declaration. Also that despite diverse decisions, harmony and tolerance are socially valued.
2) The Declaration on Universal Norms on Bioethics should not be limited to human beings. Human beings are one of the members of a wide biodiversity, and many applications of life technology touch other living organisms besides human beings. There are some general principles such as respect for life, and to minimize harm to living organisms that could be included. For some peoples and countries the measure of an ethical society includes the way animals are treated and the way the environment is protected.
Given the vast variety of human views, it would be unfair to dictate any one, or any set of, substantive views as the official view of a declaration. Instead, declarations should concentrate on procedural matters having to do with the right to have, and mechanisms for facilitate the expression of, many different points of view.
3) Some examples of issues that we would raise for consideration to this process include:
a) the treatment of animals, in their natural environment, in cities, farms, research, therapy, as companions and for human entertainment.
b) the use of genetically modified organisms.
c) the extent of tolerating human chimeras with other organisms, as cell fusion hybrids, and including gene and/or chromosomal transfer. We note that in ancient Indian mythology chimeras are described.
d) the transfer of human genes, including genes that convey "human properties" to other organisms.
e) agreements to protect the common environment, reducing pollution, minimizing impact upon the environment, protecting biodiversity. This could include recollections from a range of existing international treaties relating to this area, as well as any new work to highlight and explore ethical norms.
f) spiritual aspects of changing living organisms, especially with regard to the variety of religions found in Asia.
As reference in the appendix we refer to the Muttukadu Declaration that recently was the outcome of an ABA-cosponsorred conference in India, which may be useful in deriving some common ecological principles.
3. Comments on Structure and Content of a Declaration on Universal Norms on Bioethics
1) The structure of the Declaration should include a preamble with following sections, and an explanatory document attached to the declaration to explain the process. There is room for both descriptive statements that represent the reality of global thinking, and some prescriptive recommendations on what are norms. A wide range of topics should be included, but in some areas where agreement and consensus is not expected, then a description of diversity of views would still be useful. We do not think the name of any country should be in the Declaration, however, in one of the explanatory documents it may be useful to review positions of different countries.
2) We would support the inclusion of the following principles (this is not an exclusive list). UNU also notes that the principles proposed by different persons vary in their number, names, and organization, yet sufficient convergence exists to allow us to endorse the ethical values of:
a) respect for persons, families, groups and communities,
b) doing good (beneficence),
c) doing no harm (non-maleficence),
e) harmony and listening to each other with tolerance and acceptance of diverse conclusions,
f) diversity of views is a positive sign of the bioethical maturity of a society.
The examination of these principles in a frank but harmonious interaction is part of bioethics, so the precise application of these principles for different societies for different applications of science and technology is an essential part of the living process of bioethics. There does not need to be a dogmatic definition of these principles but rather general recognition, and encouragement for study to examine these and other principles that may be useful for decision-making.
Asian perspectives cherish the value of family and community, and emphasize the interrelationship between individuals and family/community and prefer to resolve their possible conflicts through discussion and negotiation. The same method is also used between different moral, ethnic or cultural communities: they should resolve their possible conflicts by means of negotiation and consultation not by force, rather seeking common grounds while reserving differences, being ready to make compromises. This spirit we think is important in all aspects of the wording of a Declaration from the United Nations.
There are also principles for children's rights, refugee rights, and vulnerable groups within society that could be adopted from other international treaties. The ideal of solidarity is often promoted in UN declarations, but sadly there are many deficiencies in practice. However, a declaration of ethics should be a goal for individuals and societies to achieve, but balancing needs of individuals and society might never be accomplished perfectly. Please note that in Asia the society is often given more weight when balancing with individual choices.
3) If there exists international consensus than the most detailed possible consensus should be written. While there are some areas of consensus that we can see between the policies of national ethics committees, there is academic debate over many points. This cultural diversity is something UNESCO was set up to value.
Please refer to point 3(1) above, on the role of an explanatory document. There are areas where there is agreement, and the previous Declarations of the IBC provide some examples where details may be possible.
4) Subject areas that we would suggest considering to include all those mentioned in the UNESCO IBC questionnaire, but with environmental and animal issues, and more focus on general principles on freedom of open (public) bioethics discussion.
Please refer to the "Eubios Declaration on International Bioethics" that was agreed at an ABA cosponsored international bioethics meeting in 2002, given in the appendix 1, and the "The Muttukadu Statement on Our Common Bioethical Future in our Shared Environment with Technology" < http://eubios.info/mutt.htm>, agreed at an ABA cosponsored international bioethics meeting in 2003, given in the appendix 2. We humbly offer these as a source of possible common values.
5) Should such a Declaration be developed it is important to circulate calls for input in more than just the major United Nations languages, otherwise the English and French speakers will dominate the discussion, and the diversity of views will be smaller.
Appendix 1: Eubios Declaration for International Bioethics
Appendix 2: The Muttukadu Statement on Our Common Bioethical Future in our Shared Environment with Technology
[text was printed in full in UNESCO IBC proceedings]
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