Inspirations of the Ankara Roundtables on Bioethics

- Rusen Keles, Ph.D.
Director, Center for Environmental Studies,
Ankara University, Turkey
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 8 (1998), 166.

The Ankara Roundtables on Bioethics provided us with the opportunity to meet most competent representatives of the movement of Bioethics. This will certainly give us a unique chance to exchange our views, experiences and findings of our researches in the future. Thus, we will be able to make whatever conclusions we reach here applicable, nationally and internationally.

As bioethics is emerging as an important scientific discipline to guide human conduct and behaviour, it will undoubtedly constitute one of the soundest safeguards against the disruption of environmental values. In countries with negligible extent of environmental awareness, horizons that will be opened by teaching bioethics will certainly constitute the general framework in which enlightened citizens will act as the real guardians of environmental values.

Despite the fact that there is a wrong tendency to view the environmental degradation and pollution as technical matters, the final solution of the problems lies, in fact, in the very conduct of people on the street. The article 56 of the Turkish Constitution, which recognizes as a human right, to live in a healthy and balanced environment, gives the state and the citizens the duty to improve the natural environment and to prevent environmental pollution. In order to carry out this duty properly, both citizens and the decision-makers must observe carefully not only the legal, but also the ethical rules imposed on them by the whole society and even by the future generations.

Questions such as what to protect, why to protect and how to protect become the most crucial questions to be answered in this connection. Are we going to adopt a human-organism centered or bio-centered approach , or will we base our judgments and practices mainly on an ecosystem-centered understanding creates a critical problem of choice. Experiences suggest that the direction of the progress is towards a gradual enlargement of the concept of environment. As a result, animal rights have become to be perceived as almost equal to the fundamental human rights during the last two and a half decades.

The enlargement of the concept of environment also encompasses the subject of the right to environment. More concretely, words like "everyone", "humanity", or "human beings "include not only the people living today, but also the generations to come. There are references to the concept of future generations in a number of international legal instruments. The number of those who believe that future generations could not be subjects of the right to environment is being rapidly decreased. The concept is implicitly recognized in the expression of "everyone" in the article 56 of the Turkish Constitution.

Another controversy regarding the nature of environmental science is also worth to mention in this connection. This is concerned with the assumption that science and knowledge are value free. Such an approach cannot longer be held valid as far as the contemporary meaning of the environmental science is concerned. The significance of values in behavioral sciences can not be overlooked. Science and knowledge can be used by human beings just as tools with widely different goals depending upon their intentions moulded by their own values. Therefore, values underlying the goals of environmental protection are of utmost importance and this fact constitutes an exception to the assumption that science is value-free.

A corollary of such an understanding is to view environmentalism closer to interventionist ideologies rather than to liberalism. Because, the conservation of the world heritage of mankind requires that some sort of intervention in economic and social life on behalf of the community take place. That task can not be left to the free play of the market forces or to the selfishness of the individuals. Mark Sagoff once pointed out rightly that environmentalists can not be liberals. He wrote: "Liberalism need not push pluralism into individualism. Rather by balancing pluralism with integration, individuality with community, it should make itself consistent with democracy".

Once again, the need to have a new concept of citizenship, sensitive to global problems facing the ecosystem and the humanity as a whole seems to be clear. Active instead of passive citizens striving to do their best for the present and future generations could prevent the planet from disasters. Only with their active involvement, democracy feeding the individualism that may create disastrous consequences for the environment, can be made beneficial for the whole world.

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