African bioethics: methodological doubts and insights

BMC Medical Ethics 19 (1):98 (2018)
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Abstract

A trend called ‘African bioethics’ is growing on the continent due to perceptions of existing bioethics, especially guidelines for international collaborative research, as ‘ethical imperialism’. As a potential alternative to ‘Western Principlism,’ ‘African bioethics’ is supposed to be indigenous to Africa and reflective of African identity. However, despite many positive insights in the on-going discussions, it is feared that the growth of bioethics in Africa lacks a clear direction. Some of the views threaten to distort the essence of bioethics and its development on the continent. This paper presents some of the dominant views on ‘African bioethics’, an examination of which reveals some valuable insights into the direction bioethics in Africa ought to take, but at the same time confirms some methodological challenges in some contributions to the discussion. On top of acknowledging critical insights in the discussion, the paper reveals that some views are characterized by arbitrariness and rhetorical discussions based on a strong negative and yet hard-to-accept assumption; doubtful designation; lack of a clearer problem being addressed and consequently obscure question and aim of the discourse. Finally, some methodological insights are proposed to guide bioethics research and scholarship in Africa. Specifically, the paper proposes that in search for the legitimacy of bioethics in Africa, we ought to protect the essence of bioethics by giving considerable attention to the utility of subsequent bioethics. To achieve this we need to specify the problem and proper designation for the discourse; focus on principles qua principles with impartiality and how to ensure their strict implementation; and encourage critical thinking as part of bioethics. In cultivating bioethics in Africa, the pursuit of identity is legitimate but must be conditional in light of other competing considerations. We should focus on an objective search for bioethical principles that can be effective in responding to African and global health challenges of moral significance, irrespective of the origin of the principles and at the same time focus more on strategies for ensuring compliance with resulting principles.

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