Thursday, September 21, 2006

Global bioethics: the very idea

I admit I easily took the bait. It was hard not to, what with an enticing title like "Global bioethics -- myth or reality". The article by Soren Holms and Bryn William-Jones in BioMed Medical Ethics seemed to suggest, among other things, that the name of this blog might need a rethink. Maybe, after all, there is no such thing, and in fact the word 'global' has been linked to the word 'bioethics' for purely public relations purposes. If nothing else, global sounds jet-settingly cool. And it links with the current trend among schools of public health to set up a wing of Global Health, and hopefully pull in some money from Bill Gates or Bill Clinton.

The article, however, understands 'global bioethics' in an unfamiliar way. It identifies global bioethics as the idea of there being a shared way of thinking about (similar) bioethical issues around the world, and uses rather unusual way of ascertaining whether this is the case, namely by studying linking patterns of bioethics institutions, citation patterns of bioethics articles and the buying patterns of bioethics books.

The result of the study indicate that bioethicists around the world do not link to each others sites very much, they do not cite papers very much from bioethics journals from other countries, and do not buy the same sort of books. So the idea of there being a 'global bioethics' in this sense seems to a myth. But then again, the idea of there would be a global bioethics if bioethicists around the world were just a bit more incestuous (citing one another, linking one another, shopping like one another) seems pretty unwholesome itself. If that kind of universal conformity is what global bioethics comes to, the notion deserves to be put to sleep. Immediately. It is painfully uncool.

Holms and William-Jones mention another conception of global bioethics in passing, i.e. the call to globalize bioethics by focusing more attention on, for example, issues of resource-poor countries, public health, or global justice and equity. Given the somewhat parochial concerns of bioethicists in the world's most powerful countries, this seems to be form a global bioethics worth wanting. So the name of this blog remains the same, until further notice.


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