Cross-Cultural Issues in Bioethics: The Example of Human Cloning

By Heiner Roetz | Go to book overview

Epilogue
Cross-Cultural Discourse In Bioethics:
It's a Small World After All

Nikola Biller-Andorno

In many parts of the world bioethics has expanded considerably over the last few decades, not only as an academic enterprise, but also as a prominent set of issues in the policy arena. Discourse in bioethics is not limited to class rooms and scientific conferences but involves politicians, regulators and many other stakeholders as well as society at large. Issues like the use of embryonic stem cells, patenting of drugs or organ selling touch upon deep moral convictions and views about our very existence as humans.1 As the stakes are high, debates can become fierce when societies are struggling to find norms in controversial areas. Reaching consensus at least as soon as results are supposed to be legally binding - may be difficult or downright impossible, as the example of the debate on human reproductive cloning at the United Nations has shown.

In this policy discourse, philosophical questions about the possibility, nature and limits of cross-cultural bioethics - and attempts to answer them - risk being pushed aside or instrumentalised for political purposes: For instance, the temptation to quickly draw up international or even global declarations on bioethics may prevail over a more strenuous and protracted quest for areas of cross-cultural agreement and disagreement; or raising doubts about evident universal standards in bioethics and thinking out loud about possible limits may be interpreted as an indicator for a “relativist” and thus “liberal” position that intends to undermine existing “high” ethical standards, dichotomising or marginalising positions in an undue manner.

If the process of debating bioethical issues and maybe reaching normative conclusions is a very sensitive and complex one even within a particular society, it is even more so in a cross-cultural context. In the light of the increasing importance of international collaboration in a globalised world there is widespread agreement about the necessity of harmonising standards in bioethics. But at the same time, this endeavour runs the risk of being perceived as moral imperialism. And in fact, when funding, be it for research or for developmental aid, is linked to the fulfilment of certain ethical standards, moral values are being imposed on those who cannot afford to reject the money.

The increasing discontent with this situation has contributed to a clash between “Western” and “non-Western” ideas that reverberates in theoretical discussion on cross-cultural bioethics. “Western” bioethics is

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