Bioethics Blogs

What Role Should Bioethics Play in Global Health?

I appreciate Dr. Benatar’s essay on the role of bioethics in confronting the challenges of global health inequities. His article aptly catalogues the contributing factors–both specific to health and otherwise–that weigh heavily on our unequal world. More importantly, Dr. Benatar’s focus on the role that bioethics ought to play in ameliorating the burden of these inequities warrants greater attention.

The contours of bioethics as a discipline have often eluded precise definition. We have come to think of the reach of bioethics as encompassing issues that touch nearly every corner of medicine, public health, politics, philosophy, law, sociology, and science, to name just a few. As Dr. Benatar details, the rising inequities touch a similarly expansive set of interwoven issues. The complexity of these issues is staggering.

At the international level, bending the trajectory of inequities requires not only meaningful consensus across nations, but also a deep commitment from individual nations toward incorporating shared values into their domestic policies. As Harold Hongju Koh has stated in the context of articulating why nations obey international law, we owe much of the strength of global policies to the internalization of international norms within the self-defined identities of domestic institutions.

Dr. Benatar is right to stress the importance of Dr. Potter’s classic conception of bioethics as joining together the sciences with a shared global commitment to human values. We have, I believe, left behind narrow conceptions of bioethics for a richer, more comprehensive view of its proper role in both academic and policy-making circles. However, despite an obvious place for bioethics in addressing global inequities, we have not fully articulated the role that it should play in such conversations.

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.