chapter  25
10 Pages

The Incompatibility of the United Nations’ Goals and Conventionalist Ethical Relatvism

WithLoretta M. Kopelman

The Universal Draft Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights seeks to provide moral direction to nations and their 416citizens on a series of bioethical concerns. In articulating principles, it ranks respect for human rights, human dignity and fundamental freedoms ahead of respect for cultural diversity and pluralism. This ranking is controversial because it entails the rejection of the popular theory, conventionalist ethical relativism. If consistently defended, this theory also undercuts other United Nations activities that assume member states and people around the world can reach trans-cultural judgments having moral authority about health, pollution, aggression, rights, slavery, and so on. To illustrate problems with conventionalist ethical relativism and the importance of rejecting it for reasons of health, human rights, human dignity and fundamental freedoms, the widespread practice of female genital circumcision or cutting is discussed. These surgeries are virtually a test case for conventionalist ethical relativism since they are widely supported within these cultures as religious and health practices and widely condemned outside them, including by the United Nations.