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Being and Bioethics: Towards an Inclusive Society

About this event

This event, organised jointly by Globethics India and St. Aloysius College, Elthuruth, Kerala, looks at the concept of 'Being and Bioethics: Towards an Inclusive Society'. Papers are welcomed on the following themes and can be sent to

  • Ethics and Literature
  • Animal Rights
  • Medical Literature
  • Health Care Ethics
  • Cyborgs and Humanoids
  • Ethics and Environmentalism
  • Dystopian and Utopian Literature
  • Ethics and Science Fiction
  • Eating and Ethics

When using the term “bioethics” in his 1971 work Bioethics: Bridge to the Future for the first time, the American biochemist Van Rensselaer Potter had in his mind the possibility of an ethics which would incorporate humanity’s responsibilities and obligations to the whole of biosphere. Since then, against the backdrop of rapid advancements in science and technology, the term has been gathering scholarly attention and has been subjected to heated debate. Bioethics has now established itself as a distinct, interdisciplinary area of study.

Scientific interventions into human life through organ transplants, euthanasia, genetic engineering, assisted reproduction, and varied other biotechnologies problematise the received ethical categories, creating unprecedented ethical dilemmas. Also, monumental advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and digital technologies have blurred the boundaries between human and machine. In this context, the currency of bioethics - which is concerned with ethical issues arising from the changes in the fields of science, medicine, healthcare, digital technologies, human-nature interactions, climate change, animal rights, etc. - is steadily increasing.

Centaurs in Greek mythology, Horus in Egyptian Mythology, and Narasimha in Hindu religion are some of the numerous literary manifestations of the human desire for the hybrid in ancient literature. Of course, they have their modern counterparts too: the morally bankrupt vivisections of Dr. Moreau in H.G. Well’s The Island of Doctor Moreau, the biologically engineered ‘happy citizens’ in Huxley’s Brave New World, the unscrupulous bioengineering in Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, the human cloning in Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, issues surrounding assisted suicide in Jodi Picoult’s Mercy - to name a few. Even so, scarce attempts have been made at appreciating, critically deliberating, and exploring the interpretative potentials of these works of literature vis-à-vis bioethics.

One of the methodological issues in bioethical studies is the absence of a single normative theory that would incorporate all modes of inquiry. Instead, bioethicists rely on varied theoretical methods such as utilitarianism, deontology, communitarianism, pragmatism, virtue ethics, contractarianism and feminist ethics. According to Australian moral philosopher Peter Singer, applied ethics, principalism, casuistry and a combination of different techniques are the major ways of addressing bioethical issues. Applied ethics relies on the application of ethical theories to concrete clinical/research cases. Principalism popularised by Beauchamp and Childress in their work Principles of Bioethics makes use of the principles of autonomy, beneficence, and justice to resolve ethical dilemmas. Casuistry, which favours case-based analysis to arrive at morally valid resolutions, rejects notions of principalism as it is not attentive enough to the particulars or processes of a context.

The majority of these approaches in bioethics regard the concept of autonomy as fundamental. The origin of debates on autonomy of the subject started with the Belmonte Report by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research 1979. The report identified “…respect for persons, beneficence and justice” as the fundamental ethical principles in biomedical research. The question of autonomy and persona is central in ethical debates on assisted dying and euthanasia, assisted reproduction, designer babies, organ transplantation and animal rights. It is in this context that the role of literature in broadening our notions on ethics becomes relevant. Literature has always anticipated the possible ramifications of unrestrained progress in science, and it prepares us to encounter consequent ethical predicaments.

When23-24 February 2023
09:30 CET
Language English