Bioethics and Vulnerability: A Latin American View

Bioethics and Vulnerability: A Latin American View

Bioethics and Vulnerability: A Latin American View

Bioethics and Vulnerability: A Latin American View


"This book presents some of the challenges bioethics in Latin America faces today."


Much has been written about ethical problems in medicine in the Anglo-Saxon world and recently in Europe. However, despite the valuable contributions this literature provides for addressing and analyzing problems, bioethics, unlike pure philosophy, is rooted in reality. Even though societies can share outcomes and theoretical approaches, bioethics presents perspectives that are specific to regions or cultures.

This book examines some of the concerns that pervade Latin American society and tries to offer a different vision of some bioethical problems. It studies a recurrent question concerning bioethical issues: How can a developing society, a Latin society, with vices and virtues that differ from those in industrialized societies, approach these problems? To a greater or lesser degree, the chapters that follow echo some of the concerns of all populations marked by vulnerability, intolerance, authoritarianism, and corruption. They consider the peculiar implications that occurrence in Latin and non-mainstream Western countries can have for some bioethical and research situations.

Before the content and organization of the book are presented, some comments about “vulnerability” and “developing countries” are in order, as such concepts inevitably make up part of the theme and analysis of most of the chapters.

“Vulnerability” is a concept that has only relatively recently been introduced into bioethics. Rosemary Flanigan points out that “vulnerable populations” did not became a keyword descriptor in the official Bioethics Thesaurus until 1997, and most of the bibliography on the subject is from 2000 on. the word “vulnerability” stems from the Latin vulnerare, to wound. There are two facets to this word. Onora O´Neill points out that human beings are persistently vulnerable in ways typical to the whole species, requiring protection by means of justice. in this sense, vulnerability is an expression of the human condition, the fragility and finitude of which has been a topic for many philosophers, especially those working in the continental tradition. in addition, O´Neill explains that human beings may become “deeply, variably, and selectively vulnerable to the action of the particular others and the particular institutions on whom we come to depend for specific or often unavoidable purposes.” This second facet of the term gives rise to the idea of “vulnerable groups.”

In bioethics, the notion of “vulnerability” has mainly featured in discussions of research ethics. the term has been used in a number of Codes of ethics. However, in the light of the characteristics set out above, it can be seen that it is a broader concept, and it seems an adequate one to address the situation of some people living in deprivation, oppression, and powerlessness— conditions that are all too common for many Latin Americans.

New to bioethics though this concept is, there is an even more recent trend of diminishing its importance. Some argue against the labeling and . . .

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