Teaching Global Bioethics
Bioethics 2003 October; 17(5-6): 432-446
We live in a world with enormous disparities in health. The life expectancy in Japan is 80 years; in Malawi, 40 years. The under-five mortality in Norway is 4/1000; in Sierra Leone, 316/1000. The situation is actually worse than these figures suggest because average rates tend to mask inequalities within a country. Several presidents of the IAB have urged bioethicists to attend to global disparities and to broaden the scope of bioethics. For the last six years I have tried to do just that. In this paper, I report and reflect on my attempts to teach bioethics in ways that address global health and justice. I then discuss ways to address key ethical issues in global health: the problem of inequalities; the nature of the duty to assist; the importance of the duty not to harm; the difference between a cosmopolitan and a political view of justice. I also discuss how teaching about global health may help to shift the emphasis in bioethics--from sensational cases to everyday matters, from autonomy and justice, and from access to healthcare to the social determinants of health. At the end of my paper, I reflect on questions that I have not resolved: how to delineate the scope of bioethics, whether my approach over- politicises bioethics, and how to understand the responsibilities of bioethicists.
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