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‘Bioethics is crucial for future physicians’
  • By Constance Williams
  • Approval 2017.10.30 14:41
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Under the theme of the “Future of Bioethics & Health Care,” the 18th Asia Bioethics Conference is a forum for international cooperation to share developments and experiences in the field of bioethics in Asia.

The term “bioethics” is a somewhat new inter-disciplinary field that emerged quickly in the second half of the 20th century. Since then, there has been a significant overlap of many issues, ethical approaches, concepts, and moral considerations. This makes it difficult to examine and to quickly solve moral problems such as cloning, abortion, stem cell research, and the moral status of animals and the environment.

Chairperson of the “ABC18” event, Anoja Fernando, from the University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka, had an interview with Korea Biomedical Review Thursday to discuss the importance of teaching bioethics to future physicians.

Professor Anoja Fernando of the University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka, explains the principles of bioethics and how young doctors can overcome moral issues, in an interview with Korea Biomedical Review during the 18th Asia Bioethics Conference in Seoul Thursday.

Question: How does bioethics evolve the medical industry?

Answer: Everything started with medical ethics, being much older than bioethics. It started from the time of Hippocrates in the West and their system of medicine, as well as from famous surgeons and physicians in the East. Sushruta, an ancient Indian physician, was the first person in the world to perform plastic surgery at 6th century B.C., and Charaka was one of the principal contributors to Ayurveda, a system of medicine and lifestyle developed in ancient India.

There were also Persians ethicists and physicians in the Middle East such as Avicenna and Rhazes, two Islamic doctors who wrote the first special treaties about nutrition, diet, and health in the 8th century. Medical ethics studies human patients, doctors, and society while bioethics is a relatively new concept, ranging into a more extensive field beyond humans to other forms of life.

Q: What contribution could trained bioethicists make?

A: I have been a member of the Asian Bioethics Association since 2004, and I am also a member of the UNESCO International Bioethics Committee as a philanthropist. From my point of view, bioethics is not only extending to other forms of life, but it also takes into account the advances in biotechnology, medicine, and genetics. All the new developments are posing substantial ethical and complex problems to the medical profession. I believe it’s important to educate our young doctors on how to tackle these moral issues.

Q: How do the principles of bioethics "apply" to a particular case?

A: You have to know the four basic principles in bioethics -- the respect for autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence, and justice -- which help you to decide when there is a dilemma. Broadly speaking, when you teach bioethics, you can divide them into different types. For example, professional ethics is what you expect doctors to behave toward the patient, to their colleagues, and toward society. We also have clinical ethics where a doctor treating a patient is faced with an ethical problem.

The most common problem I have studied where supposedly a patient is suffering from gangrene (a condition that occurs when body tissue dies) on their leg. The doctor would practice the principle of non-maleficence by suggesting amputating below the knee. The patient then has to practice the principle of autonomy by understanding why the doctor recommended this treatment and the patient has to agree.

It’s left to each country to decide how to teach bioethics. As a physician, I hope that each country will do what is best for its people from the point of health, medicine, and technology; that is ethics in practice without political will.

connie@docdocdoc.co.kr

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