Human dignity in bioethics, German conference
I attended the conference, Japanese and Asian Bioethics, 26-29 September 2006, at Tuebingen University. The first day was dedicated to presentations by young scholars in Germany and Japan. Among them, the presentation, "Application of Preinplantation Genetic Diagnosis in Japan," by Kayoko Yamamoto, was most stimulating. She insisted that preimplantation genetic diagnosis has more ethical problems than prenatal diagnosis (selective abortion), because in the case of PGD the pregnant woman can abort a fetus without experienceing an intimate mother fetus relationship in her womb. Her discussion sounded somewhat paradoxical, but it made me think deeply about the morality of abortion and the meaning of life.
On the second and third days we discussed about the regulation of research on human embryo, and about the debate on brain death and organ transplantation in Japan. There were three insiders among the participants, namely, Susumu Shimazono, who was a member of the Committee on Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Ryuichi Ida, who was also a member of the committee and other related committees, and Yutaka Hishiyama, who was working as a governmental official in this field at that time. Hence, we had a deep discussion hearing their "personal experiences" in the actual political process of establishing guidelines and rules.
On the last day, we had a free discussion over current bioethical issues. One of the debated topics was the meaning of "human dignity" in the area of bioethics. In the German constitution, "human dignity" is stipulated as this: "Human dignity is inalienable. To respect and to protect it is the duty of all state authority." (wiki) Ole Doering pointed out in our discussion that even in the German constitution the term "human dignity" was not clearly defined. Ida said to us that in the above committee he decided to skip philosophical discussions about the concept of human dignity because he was afraid that once the discussion began it would never reach any consensus. On the contrary, Shimazono, who was also a member of the committee, tried to continue a philosophical debate on human dignity no matter how much time it might take. (See the paper, "The Ethics of Human Cloning and the Sprout of Human Life")
I have the impression that the discussion on "human dignity" should be continued, but we have to keep in mind that the concept of human dignity is different from that of "sanctity of human life," because it is logically possible to imagine cases in which intervention with "natural" human life should be needed to protect his/her human dignity. However in most cases, human dignity is fully protected when we withhold such intervention in the field of bioethics. This is a really difficult topic. I have the intuition that my concept "fundamental sense of security" must serve as a methodological ground for pursuing human dignity.
Our conference was held in the old castle, Schloss Hohentuebingen, which is located at the center of the old city of Tuebingen. In the morning, this castle was covered with heavy fog, and we could hear various birds singing behind it. Tuebingen was a very beautiful city. In a bookstore in the university I could find a lot of German philosophy books that I had read in Japanese translation.
Photo: Albany, NY, USA
-- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org