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Are European moral principles universal?. Margit Sutrop Director of the Centre for Ethics, University of Tartu, Estonia International Conference on Human Rights and Biomedicine, Rotterdam, 10-12 December 2008. The main challenge.

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are european moral principles universal
Are European moral principles universal?

Margit Sutrop

Director of the Centre for Ethics,

University of Tartu, Estonia

International Conference on Human Rights and Biomedicine, Rotterdam, 10-12 December 2008

the main challenge
The main challenge
  • Desire to establish universal values / to respect ethical diversity
  • “The increasing globalisation ... is heightening the tension between the aspiration to universality of ethics driven regulation and the emerging reality of the diversity of moral cultures in the world and the need to respect plurality and ethical diversity.” (A.Plomer, 2005)
attempts to formulate universal principles
Attempts to formulate universal principles
  • The Declaration of Helsinki (1964)
  • The Belmont Report (1979)
  • Tom Beauchamp and James Childress

“Principles of Biomedical Ethics” (1979)

  • Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine (Oviedo, 1997)
  • UNESCO Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights(2005)
different meanings of the word principle
Different meanings of the word “principle”
  • Principle=moral value, designates what we appreciate/do not want to loose, it can be formulated as a rule of action
  • Ethical principle: a general principle which defines what is a morally good action (morally good action is such that maximizes happiness / respects life, human dignity, does not instrumentalize others / is in our own best interest)
a critique of principles
A critique of principles
  • harmonisation has the effect of driving down ethical standards to the lowest common denominator
  • the seeming consensus is hiding the fact that moral and political dilemmas are still continuing to exist, one avoids problematic issues, no action will be taken
  • the compromise may suppress the dialogue, oblige one party to violate its values, lead to moral and political intimidation
identification establishment harmonization
Identification, establishment, harmonization
  • Identification of universal values –

a) From is to ought: if shared by all moralities, then bounding to everybody (UNESCO Decl)

b) Grounding on metaethical position: there are moral truths to be discovered ( principlism) or that ethics is the result of human agreements (contractualist ethics)

  • Standardization: standards established
  • Harmonization of ethical rules/norms
isn t the question self contradictory
Isn’t the question self-contradictory?
  • Are European moral principles universal? – If they are universal, why do we talk about European principles instead of global bioethical principles? Because identified by Europeans?
  • More specifically: Are European moral principles/values shared by all Europeans?
oviedo convention
Oviedo Convention
  • The interests of human beings must come before the interests of science or society
  • Bans all forms of discrimination based on the grounds of a person’s genetic make-up, prohibits the use of techniques to help choose the sex of a child, except for avoiding hereditary condition
  • Prohibits the creation of human embryos where countries allow in-vitro research
  • States the principle according to which a person has to give the necessary consent for treatment expressly, in advance and that such consent may be freely withdrawn
  • Prohibits the removal of organs and other tissues from people not able to give consent
  • Patients have a right to be informed about their health including the results of predictive genetic tests. Recognizes the right not to know.
are there specific problems with applying the principles in post communist countries
Are there specific problems with applying the principles in post-Communist countries?
  • 22 countries have ratified, the majority are Central-East European countries, except Latvia, Poland, Russia, Ukraine
  • Finland, Sweden, Norway, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, UK, Liechtenstein have not ratified
possible reasons
Possible reasons
  • In W-E countries already existing legal regulations, sometimes contradicting the Convention
  • In C-E Europe no regulation before- international treaties create the new practice
  • In C-E Europe pressure has not come from the civil society but from the desire to promote values of human dignity as part of the common heritage of Europe
inglehart welzel cultural map of the world 2005
Inglehart-Welzel cultural map of the world, 2005

Basic values are closely correlated, they can be depicted in two major dimensions of cross-cultural variation:

  • Traditional/secular-rational
  • Survival/self-expression values
The traditions/secular-rational values dimension

Survival and self-expression values

Post-industrial society

Emphasis on subjective well-being, self-expression, quality of life

Environmental protection, tolerance of diversity, demand for participation in decision making

High interpersonal trust

The importance of religion

  • Parent-child ties, defence of authority
  • Absolute standards and traditional family values
  • Reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia, suicide
  • High levels of national pride
cultural differences of europe as shared value community
Cultural differences of Europe as shared value community
  • As religion plays a role in value-orientation the divide is not always between East- and West-Europe
  • As accumulation of wealth influences our attitudes towards survival/self-expression values we notice indeed the difference between post-communist and old liberal democracies
european value community
European value community
  • The shift from survival values to self-expression values (self-determination, participation) depends on the economic development (patient rights, informed consent)
  • The shift from traditional/secular-rational values depends on the secularization of societies (abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, IVF, etc)
my argument
My argument
  • The disagreement about values is often not the result of the uptake of different values but of different interpretation or prioritization of values.
  • Moral values depend on our self-understanding, conception of good life, which in turn depend on historical events and economic situation, cultural tradition, and religious convictions.
there is no unity of european bioethics
There is no unity of “European” bioethics
  • The roots of rights-based liberal ethicsare in the political struggles of the early modern era (the American Declaration of Independence, the battlecries of the French Revolution, its grounding fathers are Kant and Locke.
  • Common-good based communitarian ethics stands in opposition to liberal ethics, placing more of an emphasis on citizenship and community (its apologues are considered to be Aristotle, Cicero, Thomas Aquinas, Hegel).
liberalism versus communitarianism
Liberalism versus communitarianism
  • Liberals seek to protect individual rights, of which the most basic are the autonomy of the individual or the right to self-determination.
  • For communitarians, the core values are solidarity and responsibility. Liberalism stresses rights, communitarianism the common good.
different meanings of dignity h yry 2003
Different meanings of dignity (Häyry 2003)
  • Kantian model (rational agents)
  • Catholic doctrine (all human beings created by God, icl. the unborn, the irrational)
  • The genetic reading (incl artificially produced human beings)
  • Utilitarian model (human beings and other sentient beings who suffer)
  • Traditional cultures’ model (individuals of specific importance)
disagreement about solidarity
Disagreement about solidarity

Søren Holm (1995) “Not just autonomy”: “solidarity is missing from principlism”

Robert Baker (2005) “International Bioethics and Human Rights”:

“The concept of solidarity lacks resonance in much of Asia and all North America”

different meanings of solidarity simm 2005
Different meanings of solidarity (Simm 2005)
  • Solidarity as contract
  • Solidarity as benevolence
  • Solidarity as recognition of fundamental interdependence (feeling of togetherness, social unity)
disagreement about solidarity1
Disagreement about solidarity

Søren Holm (1995) “Not just autonomy”: “solidarity is missing from principlism”

Robert Baker (2005) “International Bioethics and Human Rights”:

“The concept of solidarity lacks resonance in much of Asia and all North America”

value conflicts
Value conflicts
  • Unavoidability of conflicts (incompatibility and incommensurability of values)
  • Many conflicts are resolvable, but no authoritative way of solving conflicts
  • Primary values (facts of the self, intimacy, social order) should always be respected
  • Solution appealing to historically conditioned traditions and conceptions of good life that the opposing protagonists share
  • Values may come into conflict and we have to choose which value we appreciate most. Different hierarchies of values lead to different moral practices.
  • The acknowledgement of the diversity of morals does not relegate one to a position of ethical relativism.
  • We need a comparative study of the use of concepts and a discussion of different interpetations of values.