Bioethics Blogs

On the Origins of Research Ethics: China and the West

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D

When I was a graduate student, I was fortunate to be one of five students chosen by the China Medical Board to attend an international bioethics conference between the U.S. and China in Beijing. We listened to talks on the philosophical bases of ethics in each country and culture. The U.S. laid its philosophical history on the doorsteps of the ancient Greek traditions such as Plato and Aristotle as well as later European thinkers such as Kant, Mill, and Bentham. The Chinese delegates talked of Confucius and Lao Tzu. We toured a hospital and a medical school. I still have a black plastic plate with the image of the medical college drawn in a gold color that was a gift to us guests.

I was assigned to a break out session where both countries were supposed to talk about values of medical ethics in the hopes of crafting an international and intercultural code of medical ethics. As a graduate student I asked the too-wise-for-my-britches question, “How can we create an international code of ethics when we are only two countries?” I was quickly quieted as the chair, an illustrious scholar, said, “Privacy. We can agree that privacy is important, correct.” There was a lot of chatter and head nodding. Another American student sitting next to me, whispered in my ear, “I don’t know all of what they said in Chinese, but the last part was, ‘Don’t translate this for the Americans’.” The interpreter then said out loud, “Yes, we can agree to privacy.”

Two days later at the closing ceremony, a written document was placed before the head of each delegation.

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.