Friday, November 23, 2007

Bioethics @ UNESCO - the farce continues

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been scathing (that's an understatement) about pretty much most activities of UNESCO in the field of bioethics. The organization's bioethics committees churn out Declarations clearly aiming to beat each other to the title of being the most inept guidance document in the field (and there's plenty of contestants out there). Its Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights requires its member states, among other things, not to discriminate against people on any grounds. Tell that to current day South Africans trying to rectify the former apartheids state's injustices by means of affirmative action, or explain that to investigators excluding particular people from a given clinical trial on prudent scientific grounds. The same document also exhorts clinical researchers to maximize the trial participants' benefits. This is pretty much impossible and would in fact render most clinical research impossible. There's much more nonsense that forms the core mantras of this Declaration, and, understandably so, the document is by and large ignored by folks in developed countries. This is not so in developing countries, and this is what we as Editors of Developing World Bioethics warned in an Editorial about. We suggested that people not overly familiar with modes of bioethical reasoning might just fall for this sort of waffle and as a result the Declaration rather than being consigned to the traditional dustbin of UNESCO text production activities, might actually have negative impacts on policies or training programs established in developing countries.
It seems that we were correct. Today a Kenyan newspaper reports that a UNESCO bioethics center (and accompanying professorial chair) has been established at Egerton University in Kenya. I'm sure nobody in the field of bioethics has ever heard of Egerton University's research and teaching excellence in bioethics. Indeed, the new bioethics professor, sorry, the new UNESCO bioethics professor at that university, a professor Jude Mutuku Mathooko, has - according to a quick google scholar search that I undertook just now - not published a single peer reviewed paper (in a bioethics or other reputable journal) on a bioethical subject matter. Not a big surprise then that our new professorial bioethics colleague, undoubtedly after an extensive UNESCO in-house peer review process found competent to research and teach bioethics, also happens to be chairperson of one of UNESCO's bioethics committees. How he got there... don't ask. It's UNESCO after all. I'm sure this bloke is a nice chap, but surely even he should realize that it takes more to be a bioethics professor then access to UNESCO's rolodex and frequent visits to Paris.
Anyway, there is some bright spot in all of this. According to the Kenyan news report, 'The centre will perform functions in line with Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights and other declarations.' Yes, the university promises that its new UNESCO bioethics center will operate and indoctrinate in line with the above criticized Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. This possibly explains why long-established serious bioethics research and teaching institutions in developing countries such as South Africa, Mexico or the Philippines were shunned in favor of a Kenyan institution that happens to be the employer of UNESCOs bioethics committee's Kenyan chairperson.

1 comment:

  1. Steve Miles mles001@umn.eduNovember 23, 2007

    The UNESCO bioethics committee is a bizarre outfit. Its report "Background to Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights" focuses on matters like cloning --of intense interest to first world academicians that are entirely irrelevant to 99% of the world's population. It focuses on technologies like organ transplantation which have a cost effectiveness ratio that is 1/10,000 that of TB treatment and which, unlike TB treatment, has no public health significance. Sad!


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