Bioethics Blogs

Ethical argumentation and homosexuality in Africa

I am part of the teaching faculty in a NIH-funded bioethics capacity building program in Cape Town, South Africa, named Advancing Research Ethics in Southern Africa (ARESA). The program targets mid-career health professionals who are liable to contribute to the bioethics culture in their home institutional environment: when serving on their research ethics committees, writing articles, teaching classes, and so on. Part of the bioethics training is in philosophy: after all, bioethics is a form of applied ethics, and ethics is a central branch of philosophy. This means that critical thinking and argumentation are core skills for those in the field: when moral claims are made, bioethicists are supposed to examine and evaluate the ethical reasons that support them.

In principle, the idea of philosophical argumentation is not difficult to convey. But in my experience, sympathy towards the practice depends what specific claim is being examined. Predictably, the holier the cow, the greater the reluctance. Examining the moral claims “Homosexuality is immoral” and/or “Homosexuality should be illegal”, in the African context, seems to be even harder than exploring the reasons against abortion. This is unfortunate, given the topicality of the moral and legal status of homosexuality, now that Ugandan President Museveni has recently signed anti-gay legislation. It is also unfortunate given the painfully low quality of the debate. It is just supposed to be obvious why homosexuality is wrong, dangerous, to be outlawed. If you ask for reasons, the responses are not promising.

Case in point. Take this editorial in The Observer, a prominent newspaper in Kampala, Uganda.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.