Bioethics East and West

- Jean Kitahara-Frisch, Ph.D.*
Jesuit Theologate,
4-32-11 Kamishakujii, Nerima, Tokyo 177, Japan


Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 6 (1996), 157-8.
1. Is there an East Asian biology? Why then an East Asian Bioethics? Because bioethics includes more than biology or medicine. It deals with "ethics". The latter reflects the "ethos" of a particular people, meaning what this people considers as being a human-like way of life.

2. In other words, as there are different cultures, there are also different "humanisms". East Asia provides a concrete example. Though it contains diverse cultures, these share some common values (not all). These originate mainly from the influence of Confucianism.

3. However, all cultures today undergo a process of change. Values too change, often under the influence of science/technology and the changes these bring about in our way of life. Ethics of health care undergo particularly the influence of modern medicine.

4. Thus, it appears important to assess in what ways health care personnel of East Asia (in particular China), when dealing with bioethical questions, would still evidence the influence of the values proper to the Confucian tradition. How would their values differ from those of Western society where modern reflection on bioethics originated.

The development of science and technology has made all nations and cultures interdependent. Exchange of visitors, ever more intense communication of information (TV, Internet, etc.) are making the more developed part of our planet into an ever more unified "global village".

Under these circumstances, the values prevalent in one cultural area are bound to influence, sooner or later, those in other areas, no matter how geographically or economically distant. The more so when diverse cultures share a common technology, as is the case for health care.

It seems therefore imperative that we work together at the formulation of a number of basic human values recognized in all cultures, even when these common values are expressed in different lifestyles. A concrete example of such an attempt can be found in the UN Declaration of basic human rights. Although this Declaration is phrased in terms of "rights", it is important to see that to these rights correspond to "duties" on the part of all of us (individuals or societies).

Obviously, though all countries recognize these rights, we are still far from having them respected everywhere and by all. Such is our human weakness. What matters most, however, is that the principle be admitted. A beginning is thereby made. Progress toward the realization of the ideal will be the fruit of the common effort of all.

In the case of health care, how can research in bioethics help our "global village" to formulate universally recognized human values to be respected by health care personnel and institutions in all cultures? Beyond the particular humanisms characteristic of East and West, such is the challenge that modern medicine presents us with today.

*Unfortunately Father Kitahara was unable to attend the Tsukuba Roundtable, but submitted this letter for the participants.


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