Bioethics and Genetics in Asia and the Pacific:
Is Universal Bioethics Possible?
This collection focuses on the ethical questions raised by biotechnology. Biotechnology is the use of living organisms to provide goods and services, and has been essential to the development of civilization for millennia. There are several key questions I want to answer in this paper. Firstly, does new biotechnology raise any different or novel issues that the old biotechnology did not? Secondly, how do people think about these issues and over the use of biotechnology, both in medicine and agriculture? What do they think about disease, and about nature and life? We could say bioethics is love of life, so our attitudes to life are an essential part of bioethics. Thirdly, from examining the reasoning that people use in making 'bioethical' decisions, can we develop universal bioethics? The third question is the most controversial, and sensitive, and perhaps it is fitting to be discussed in Hong Kong, a cosmopolitan meeting point between European and Chinese culture.
The basic ideals of bioethical decision making are love (balancing risk of doing harm versus intended benefit); and balancing individual and/or familial autonomy versus social responsibility. The question of universal ethics rests on what we mean by the word 'universal'. Even within a single community one will find divisions on issues of bioethics, such as abortion, euthanasia and risk perceptions — so it is obvious not all people reach the same decisions. What I mean by universal is rather at the level of using the same ideals, but people may balance them differently to arrive at different decisions. Therefore, universal ethics does not mean identical decisions, but it does mean that the range of decisions in any one society is similar to other decisions found across