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Afflicting the Comfortable: An Assessment of the Stasis in International Bioethical Discourse
Hermes (2008)
  • Sam Grey, University of Victoria

Despite decades of clinical research being carried out in the 'developing' world, neither the socio-political and economic context of the global South, nor the nature and historical trajectory of global inequality have played a substantive role in determining the nature and extent of North-to-South bioethical obligations. Instead, context has been used to vacate obligation, shut out theories of justice, and collapse the “four principles' of bioethics” – sacrosanct in the 'developed’ world - into a singular, non-negotiable focus on autonomy as a procedurally-defined right. Proponents of a minimum-standards system of international clinical research conflate scientific, statistical, economic, and ethical issues, while the political and economic ambitions of both governments and corporations have been steadily entrenched in declarations that were not developed transparently. In the process ethical dilemmas have been atomized, severed from not only other ethical problems and considerations, but also larger issues of social justice. It is this atomization – the insistence that problems be classified as individual, unforeseeable ‘flare-ups’ that are the result of textual lacunae – that is at the heart of the stasis in international bioethical discourse. Problems are not fairly considered, never mind solved, using the current ad-hoc approach – they are only post-dated, put off until a 'tomorrow' that is already being shaped by aggressive trends in international human subjects research. In order to be dealt with substantively, these problems must be assessed in context, for they are the products of clear trends, driven by specific ambitions, which describe unique approaches to bioethics and ethical reasoning.

  • bioethics,
  • clinical research,
  • global health,
  • international medical research
Publication Date
Citation Information
Sam Grey. "Afflicting the Comfortable: An Assessment of the Stasis in International Bioethical Discourse" Hermes Vol. IX (2008)
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