February 24, 2024

Should bioethicists hold a conference in Qatar?

FIFA’s choice of Qatar for the 2022 World Cup sparked huge ethical controversies. What about its abominable record on migrant workers? What about its record on LGBTQ+ issues? What about women’s rights?

None of these has changed substantially – making it surprising that the International Association of Bioethics chose Doha as the venue for its 2024 conference. The IAB explains on its website:

The 2024 Congress represents a number of firsts for the IAB: it is the first time that the Congress will be hosted in the Middle East, the Gulf region, and an Arab country. This Congress affords a unique opportunity for the IAB to expand its reach to new regions of the world and to engage with more diverse audiences. IAB welcomes the opportunity to build bridges across cultures, foster mutual learning among bioethicists from around the world, and in the process, fulfill its mission to be an international Association.

Not good enough, write five Dutch bioethicists in the journal Bioethics. The choice of Qatar is “ethically problematic”.

The issues which surrounded the World Cup also dog the IAB: they “will pose a problem for freedom of speech, and for diverse, inclusive, and equitable access, as not everyone will feel free, safe, or comfortable traveling to Qatar for this conference.”

As if the welfare of migrant workers, LGBTQ+ persons, and women is not enough, there is the conference’s carbon footprint to worry about. Air conditioning in the Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics will be necessary in an area where temperatures rise above 45°C.

The Dutch bioethicists argue that there is a serious danger of “ethics washing” of an authoritarian regime. They propose:

If the IAB wants to organize its World Congress in Qatar and we as bioethicists want to attend, then we should start to debate now how we will address the key moral concerns that lie ahead for this location, including respect for human rights, promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and minimizing climate impact.