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Bioethics : how can Humanistic Buddhism contribute?

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Guruge, Ananda W. P.








As a term, "Bioethics" had been in circulation for hardly five decades. The debate over its meaning, scope and application is being carried on in earnest in academic circles with little agreement. This is as it should be in a discipline so new and important. Tomes have been written to elucidate, illustrate and defend what biological and medical scientists, philosophers, theologians, lawyers, and international jurists regard as principles and rules of bioethics. A case has also been made to expand the term to ""Biomedical ethics"". Some argue, however, that medical ethics would only be a subsystem of bioethics.

Over the last decade a plethora of books have been published. That in itself is indicative of the compelling need to evolve a discipline which pertains to ethical, moral, and religious concerns on life and living. A working definition would be that bioethics is a subsystem of ethics pertaining to life and living and, therefore to the sciences dealing with them. What is desired in the name of bioethics are adequate and clear-cut conclusions on what values, norms, principles and rules should govern the burgeoning capacity of biological and medical sciences to affect life from its most initial stage as a sperm, ovum or zygote to the final termination in death.

Never before in history had the community of biological and medical scientists wielded such immense power through knowledge, skills and sophisticated tools to manipulate life in all its ramifications. All indications are that this power is bound to increase exponentially, as biological and medical scientists, encouraged and stimulated by proven success, forge ahead with increasing discoveries in the ever-expanding discipline of biotechnology. Already, reality has surpassed the wildest imaginations of science fiction.

The specter of misuse haunts humanity. The adage that war is too important to be left to generals may as well apply to scientists, as regards biotechnology. Should the exercise of this enormous power be left in the hands of scientists alone? The answer, if we listen attentively to the vocal champions of bioethics or biomedical ethics as well as national and international jurists, is an unambiguous "NO". If bioethics is the solution, in what form and manner and through what modalities should it operate?

A specific question to be examined is the role which religion, in general, or Buddhism or more specifically Humanistic Buddhism, in particular, can play in evolving a system of bioethics to meet current challenges.

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