Health Research for Developing Countries: Reason and Emotion in Bioethics


Editor's Note: Parallel Paper Presentation from CBHD's 2009 Annual Conference, Global Bioethics: Emerging Challenges Facing Human Dignity


Abstract: Several reports published since 1990 have found that many highly prevalent diseases in the world receive little or no attention from health researchers and their funders. This so-called ‘10/90 gap’ is the discrepancy between disease burden and research investment. Given the devastation caused by these diseases, this paper will argue that developed countries have a moral obligation to attempt to bridge this gap by redirecting health research funding. This argument can be defended from a number of bioethical perspectives.

Recent practical developments in research funding will be reviewed. However, the current system of health research funding and reward for innovation often works against relieving the diseases of poverty. In spite of philosophical and theological arguments against policies that perpetuate the 10/90 gap, progress has been slow to close the gap. Rational arguments appear to be limited in their ability to convince people of a moral imperative to care for all our fellow humans. Another dimension is needed.

Recent work in narrative ethics points to the importance of emotion and imagination in moral perception. Stories and movies have a way of conveying aspects of bioethical issues that go beyond the purely rational. Movies like The Constant Gardener point to the broader social, emotional, and personal dimensions of bioethical issues like the 10/90 gap. But questions can also be raised about the accuracy of these portrayals and whether they lead to action any more than rational arguments.

The place of rational and emotional issues in bioethics will be explored. An approach that appreciates and includes all aspects of a complex bioethical situation will be defended. This approach, it will be argued, is more in keeping with a Christian approach to ethics than either a purely rational or purely emotive approach to ethics.


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