chapter  16
18 Pages

Bioethics in the developing world

The majority of people on this planet live in countries defined as ‘‘devel-

oping.’’2 This chapter identifies common themes that concern bioethicists in the developing world. Bioethics as a professional discipline exists in many

developing countries. Bioethicists teach in many health sciences and huma-

nities faculties in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Countries such as

Mexico have government appointed bioethics commissions not dissimilar to

counterparts in North America or Western Europe. Indeed, professional

journals dedicated exclusively to developing world bioethics have come

into existence. Some of them, such as Developing World Bioethics,3 are

even supported by mainstream developed world publishers, while others, such as the Indian journal Issues in Medical Ethics continue to operate

quite successfully on shoestring budgets. At the same time, otherwise

excellent major textbooks on medicine and social justice ignore developing

world issues nearly completely or look at them only from a U.S. American

Who are the bioethicists working in the developing world, professionally

speaking? Not unlike their Western colleagues, many have ventured into

bioethics later in their careers. Initially, they started off in philosophy or politics/political science departments or on the medical faculties of tertiary

institutions in their respective countries. Leading bioethicists in the Phi-

lippines, for instance, can be found in the philosophy and political science

departments of Manila-based campuses of the University of the Philippines.

It is fair to say that at the time of writing there is no straightforward career

path available to budding bioethicists in developing countries, yet strides

have been made by way of the development of undergraduate and post-

graduate curricula. International funding agencies such as the United States National Insti-

tutes of Health, the Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom, and also the

World Health Organization, to name a few, have made unilateral decisions

to sponsor research ethics training programs. As a desirable consequence

of this, research ethics competencies have dramatically improved in many

parts of the developing world. This has come at a price, however. Budding

bioethicists were (and are) invariably drawn to international funding avail-

able for this sort of activity. This has skewed the appearance of developing

world bioethics in the international arena, and it has skewed the priorities bioethicists give in the work they undertake in their respective countries of

origin. (For example, Argentinian bioethicists’ contributions to congresses

held by the International Association of Bioethics frequently have been

related to research ethics.) I will return to this ongoing concern in the

fourth part of this chapter.