The possibility of a universal declaration of biomedical ethics

Journal of Medical Ethics 33 (1):17-20 (2007)
Abstract
Statements on issues in biomedical ethics, purporting to represent international interests, have been put forth by numerous groups. Most of these groups are composed of thinkers in the tradition of European secularism, and do not take into account the values of other ethical systems. One fifth of the world’s population is accounted for by Islam, which is a universal religion, with more than 1400 years of scholarship. Although many values are held in common by secular ethical systems and Islam, their inferences are different. The question, “Is it possible to derive a truly universal declaration of biomedical ethics?” is discussed here by examining the value and extent of personal autonomy in Western and Islamic biomedical ethical constructs. These constructs are then tested vis-à-vis the issue of abortion. It is concluded that having a universal declaration of biomedical ethics in practice is not possible, although there are many conceptual similarities and agreements between secular and Islamic value systems, unless a radical paradigm shift occurs in segments of the world’s deliberative bodies. The appellation “universal” should not be used on deliberative statements unless the ethical values of all major schools of thought are satisfied.
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