The Muttukadu Statement on Our Common Bioethical Future in our Shared Environment with Technology *

*[Statement from the Conference "Nature, Science, Technology and Religions: Our Common Bioethical Issues - An International Dialogue" (Muttukadu, Chennai, India, 25 - 29 November, 2003), under the auspices of the EcoVision Dept. of the CSI Madras Diocese; and the All Indian Bioethics Association.]

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 14 (2004), 2-4.

We the undersigned are committed to the objectives of the conference. We endorse the following statements.

A) There are irrevocable directives common to people of all religions who share a bioethics of love of life:

1) Commitment to a culture of non-violence and respect for life;

2) Commitment to a culture of solidarity and a just economic order;

3) Commitment to a culture of tolerance and a life of truthfulness; and

4) Commitment to a culture of equal rights and a partnership between men and women, and between all peoples and groups.

B) Bioethics is an interdisciplinary field that needs to be nourished by open debate among all disciplines and people, not limited to any academic specialty, religious or philosophical belief, or professionals. We should consider the long period of biological, social and spiritual heritage of development of human ethical sense, and the relationships to other living organisms who share these origins.

C) There are a variety of definitions of bioethics, and this variety is part of the intrinsic value of the field of bioethics. We consider bioethics to be the process of reflection over ethical issues raised in our relationships with other living organisms; the consideration of the ethical issues in spheres including environmental ethics, health care ethics, social ethics, and in the use of technologies that affect life; and the love of life.

D) Bioethics has grown rapidly throughout the world, and should play a central role in professional and public discussions and debates, and bioethical issues feature prominently in legal, medical, scientific, and policy agendas worldwide.

E) Bioethical principles proposed by bioethicists may vary in their number, names, and organization, yet sufficient convergence exists to allow us to endorse the ethical values of respect for persons, doing good (beneficence), doing no harm (non-maleficence), and justice. Moreover, the virtues of the moral agent and his/her relationship to others and the environment are emphasized. The examination of these principles is part of bioethics.

F) We respect the life of all living organisms, When considering organisms we have to think of not only those on the planet Earth now, those that will be brought back to alive from the state of being extinct, those made in the future through natural or deliberate creation, and those that exist in other places. We should consider all persons, no matter their body or mental composition, for their intrinsic value and not their makeup. We should limit the consumption of resources in order to minimize our impact on this planet and its ecosystems, in order to live sustainably. Bioethicists should set an example for sustainable living. Those organizing bioethics conferences should consider the appropriate balance between frequency of conference meetings in order to limit air travel, and using simple conference venues, food and housing.

G) We urge reflection on the way that we will treat non-organic (e.g. robots) or hybrid (e.g. cyborgs) persons, before they are made. All persons who work towards the love of others should be valued as a member of the moral community. Many persons in this world are not valued because of speciesism and we uphold the rights of all beings capable of loving others and conscious thought. We also recognize there is a need for more scientific studies of spirituality, but there may always be questions we cannot answer properly in the way of scientific falsifiability, but these questions of love, altruism, harmony and holism are common goods.

H) To work towards a social consensus requires participation of informed citizens, which requires education about issues of bioethical importance. We applaud the public and academic discussion on bioethics that has started to emerge in a number of countries, but these efforts need further support.

I) In order to achieve the above goals, greater effort is required to educate all members of society about the scientific, clinical, cultural, and environmental background, and the ethical principles and social and legal problems involved, in the life and medical sciences. This will enable the active collaboration of all individual members of society, many academic disciplines, and the international community. This includes people without access to electronic communication. Open-minded bioethics discussions, together with health education, should be encouraged for deprived populations in developing and other countries.

J) Education of bioethics is to empower people to face ethical dilemmas. Ethical challenges come to everyone. The process of debate and discussion is important for developing good minds to face bioethical dilemmas. It also develops tolerance and respect of others. In these troubled international times, it is very important to develop tolerance of others, and to learn that everyone as a human being is the same regardless of social status, race, sex or religion. Same in this sense means equally diverse, it does not mean identical.

K) The process of debate and discussion in classrooms is particularly valuable and we urge all persons, organizations, institutions and countries to take appropriate measures to promote the principles set out in the Statement, through promotion of education in bioethics.

L) States and institutions should take appropriate measures to encourage all forms of research, training and information dissemination conducive to raising the awareness of society and all of its members of their responsibilities regarding the fundamental issues relating to bioethics, in an open international discussion, ensuring the free expression of various socio-cultural, religious and philosophical opinions. These goals require the cooperation of all. We urge all to work together for all. We need a more humble standing of all nations committed to serve humanity.

M) In order to effect this, ethics committees with full community and ethnic representation, for the purpose of reviewing research proposals, and monitoring the impact of science and technology, should be established immediately. In principle, all research on humans that has the rational potential to harm should be validated by the documented, informed consent from competent participants, which is voluntary and noncoerced. There are important issues to discuss regarding consent from communities, and we urge further study on these issues. We must devote more research to the topic of research on human subjects who lack the capacity for fully informed consent, such as in pediatric and psychiatric medicine.

N) We believe that life is the common heritage of life, and no one group of persons can claim to own a living organism so as to stop others growing similar organisms. No part of the human body (DNA, gametes, genes, cells, tissues or organs) should be exploited as a source of profit. We oppose exploiting people from some countries or groups to do things that are unacceptable in other countries, for example trade in human organs, unethical or dangerous drug trials, or dumping of hazardous wastes, including nuclear wastes. The Indian custom of 'sacred groves' should be examined as a possible conservation practice to be emulated.

O) We recognize the dependence of all life (biota) on intact, functioning ecosystems, and the essential services that ecosystems provide. We urge action to halt environmental damage by humans that reduces biodiversity or degrades ecosystem processes. Whereas wildlife provide numerous free services that make our life possible and pleasant, cleaning the air, water, and the soil of pollutants, providing food, medicines and a beautiful place to live, wildlife are in grave danger from the loss of habitat, the spread of exotic species, pollution, and direct consumption by humans. Wildlife often cannot protect themselves from humans, so without our help they cannot survive. The presence of humans greatly reduces the usefulness of a habitat to wildlife. Wildlife reserves act as sources for replenishing our supplies of animals and plants. Therefore, we urge all nations and peoples to make the protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat a top priority. In particular we urge them to set aside a large portion of their territory, interconnected by the wildlife travel corridors, for the exclusive use of wildlife, off limits to humans.

P) We call upon states not to allow exemptions in regulations to protect the environment and living organisms, including human beings, by states to the military or other special interest groups. We especially urge proper ethical and scientific evaluation of sonar technology against its reported adverse impact on marine mammals, and for immediate reduction in the energy levels that are utilized.

Q) We applaud the development of science and technology if for the betterment of all, and urge the better sharing of the benefits of technology with all. Practical methods for appropriate technology (both new and traditional) transfer should be effected, together with mechanisms to assess the cultural, environmental, ethical, social and health impacts of such technology. Encouraging simpler technologies can often be preferable to transfer of advanced scientific technology. Effective risk management is essential for all avenues of life, with sound scientific risk assessment and appropriate consideration of the interests of all.

R) In particular, we call upon all those in the research community to use any appropriate technology to reduce the burden of diseases and afflictions, both mental and physical, that afflict persons in all societies, and in particular in developing and least developed countries. We do not think that any one technology with the same general goals, like feeding hungry people or curing a given individual patient, should be singled out for more critical examination, rather that bioethical principles should be applied to protect the interests of living organisms today, and the future generations. This includes so-called high tech and low tech applications.

S) The rights of indigenous people, the ecology of rural areas, bioethical management of the coastal zones, and knowledge of indigenous fisherpeople, hunters, gatherers, and farmers of their ecosystems must be respected, protected and documented.

T) Every person has a lifelong responsibility to develop his or her own bioethical maturity and values. We could define bioethical maturity as the ability to balance the benefits and risks of ethical choices, considering the parties involved and the consequences. At the societal level, public policy and law need to be developed, which requires a social mechanism for balancing conflicting ethical principles. We undertake to develop our maturity together, and to work towards peace among all.

U) We strongly advocate the setting up of bioethical-monitoring groups comprising scientists, religious persons, philosophers, bureaucrats, politicians, social activists and others, who can act as watchdogs, not only affirming the bioethical principles but also countering every development in the society which is likely to negate these principles.

December, 2003

Signed by:

Angeles Tan Alora
Jayapaul Azariah
Minakshi Bhardwaj
Renuka Devi
Abnik Gupta
K. Joshua
Anjello Jothirajan
Joshua Kalapati
Frank Yeruham Leavitt
Darryl Macer
V.R. Manoj
Sarad Mohan
Irina Pollard
Isaac Jothi Ratnam
A. Singarayar
D.S. Sheriff
Sang-yong Song
Mike Vandeman
K.K. Verma
M. Verma
Jan Wawrzyniak

(Open to signature)


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