May 16, 2022

Bioethics after Ukraine

In a thoughtful essay in The Hastings Center blog, Jonathan Moreno, a leading bioethicist, reflects on how bioethics will change after the war in Ukraine. Russia will be wounded, isolated, and angry. There could be a second Cold War – if we manage to avoid, with a bit of luck, World War III.

The field now known as bioethics was born, grew and flourished in the post World War II order. Its foundation was the Nuremberg Code, which called for the protection of the human rights and dignity of vulnerable subjects after Nazi atrocities. “These themes run like a red line through the decades since World War II,” writes Moreno. Not just in medical ethics, but in international agreements on biological and chemical warfare, global public health, international security and so on.

“These laws and norms,” he warns, “have been undermined by threats and demands during the war on Ukraine.”

Moreno foresees a turn from “a focus on exotic and philosophical issues, like the implications of edited embryos for human personhood” to “global public health”. After Covid, “public health surveillance and state power” will become a major issue and the US will have to reevaluate its attachment to a “decentralized public health system”. Moreno concludes:

“Almost as soon as modern bioethics became a self-identified field in the midst of the first Cold War, it gained legitimacy as a set of issues, arguments, principles, and concepts that were integrated into public and private policy making. The end of the post-Cold War era will challenge the now-mature field to adapt to a new set of conditions as part of a new global framework.”