Text of the speech delivered at Maharashtra University of Health Sciences, Nashik on 25th May, 2015 by Dr Jayshree Ben Mehta

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Ladies and Gentleman

It gives me immense pleasure in participating in this notable inaugural session of Maharashtra University of Health Sciences, and UNESCO sponsored 3T Bioethics Training Programme, which in my opinion is a significant event of consequence and relevance alike.

In order to understand the concept of ‘Bioethics’ it is imperative that we are clear and loud about the core contours of ‘Ethics’. The dictionary definition of Ethics bring it out as ‘a set of principles of right conduct, or a theory or a system of moral values or the study of the general nature of morals or the rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession.

This brings us to a material question that if ethics are the study of morals and the philosophical process of considering what is moral and what is not then what exactly are the concrete ethical convictions underlying the bioethical evaluation process? The answer to the same is the objectivist view that ‘any action that willingly and directly benefits the well-being of a conscious human being is ethical, as long as it doesn’t willingly and directly harm any other conscious human being.

Society demands general respect for the human body and its parts. Human tissue should not be used at will or abused. Increasing public concern has been expressed over a number of ethical issues raised by the uses of human tissue ever since 1980s and continues till date. As such, it has turned out to be imperative that there is an important and urgent need to consider, clarify and where necessary, strengthen the ethical and legal framework within which the clinical and research usage of human tissue take place.

This is required to be evaluated in the context of the material fact that ethical question in medicine and life sciences are the subject of not one but two relatively new academic fields namely ‘bioethics’ and ‘health’ and human rights’. The growth of these fields has stimulated further attention to important moral questions in medicine and biology. Although this is to be welcomed there is also much to be regretted about the route bioethics has taken and about the very emergence of health and human rights as distinct academic field. More specifically, bioethics suffers from some serious quality control problems, while health and human rights seems to be in violation of a disciplinary version of Occam’s razor which proscribes the proliferation of discipline or fields beyond necessity. In other words, health and human rights, as an academic field does not seem to do anything that cannot be done either by bioethics, if the rights in questions are moral right, or by the law if the rights are legal rather than moral.

Bioethics per se can be understood in a broader or narrower way. Following the broader way, bioethics includes not only philosophical study of ethics of medicine, but also such areas as medical law, medical anthropology, medical sociology, health politics, health economics and even some areas of medicine itself. On the narrower side, it is limited to an area of philosophical enquiry.

The field of bioethics operationally has addressed a broad arena of human enquiry ranging from debates over the boundaries of life, surrogacy, the allocation of scarce health care resources to the right to refused medical care for religious or cultural reasons. However, the scope of bioethics has expanded with advancement in biotechnology including cloning, gene therapy, life extension, human genetic engineering, astroethics and life in space, and manipulation of basic biology through proteomics. These developments are bound to affect the future evolution and inevitably need new principles that address life at its score, such as biotic ethics that values life itself at its basic biological processes and structures and seeks their propagation.

One of the first areas addressed by modern bioethicists was that of human experimentation. The national commission for the protection of human subjects of biomedical and behavioural research was initially established in 1974 to identify the basic ethical principles that should underline the conduct of said research involving human subjects. However, the fundamental principles announced in the ‘Belmont Report’ in 1979 pertaining to autonomy beneficence and justice have influenced the thinking the world over across a wide range of issues.

In the context of multifaceted development an advancement worldwide and further as the 21st Century advances new and expanding areas of research will require increasing attention to their related ethical aspects. Neuroethics as one of the significant area pertaining to knowledge about human brain holds much promise and offers much needed hope to those who suffer from disorders of brain and mind. The relative accessibility of the brain through biochemical, electrical, and magnetic stimulation as well as surgery, makes neurological intervention tempting of knowledge as brain structure writing and chemistry grows. However, there has been very little systematic analysis of the ethical implications of the revolution in the brain sciences. So is the situation with reference to the ‘essence of personhood and identity’ in the context of relation between physiological structures and higher functioning in the domain of ‘mind or self’. Similar is the situation in the context of eugenics and also ‘when should a person die’.

In the quagmire of the said scenario, the initiative undertaken by Maharashtra Universities of Health Sciences, Nashik and UNESCO is laudable which is bound to give a new fillip to the face and facet of this vital arena in all its dimensions and manifestations.

I record my appreciation for the laudable initiative and hope and expect that it will definitely generate its own imprints on the stands of time.

Thank you,
Jai Hind

Dr Jayshree Ben Mehta