Reading Caplan in Karachi
Bioethics education and discussions about ethical dilemmas are being increasingly reduced to teaching students how to balance the four, easily memorised philosophical principles popularised by influential American philosophers Tom Beauchamp and Jim Childress. The reality is that human beings approach and comprehend moral issues in diverse ways shaped by shared histories, cultural norms and values, kinship systems, lived experiences and existing socio-political realities. Therefore, ethical discourse limited to a culturally myopic Principlism that disregards the indigenous landscape can be an abstract and meaningless venture. The different moral lenses through which people can view the same issue is highlighted in this essay. It compares the analyses offered by American bioethicist Arthur Caplan of the blocking of polio vaccination by militants in northern Pakistan and of issues related to posthumous insemination, with the more nuanced, contextualised discussions about both topics offered by Pakistani students of bioethics in our Center. For this discipline to resonate with and make an impact on those we teach, an inclusive, more reflective and socially relevant approach is required. In my opinion, bioethics is a contact sport that should not be transformed into merely an academic exercise.
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