Global Bioethics and Culture in a Pluralistic World: How does Culture influence Bioethics in Africa?

Ann Med Health Sci Res. 2014 Sep;4(5):672-5. doi: 10.4103/2141-9248.141495.


Bioethics principles and practice can be influenced by different cultural background. This is because the four globally accepted bioethics principles are often based on basic ethical codes such as autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence and justice. Beneficence/nonmaleficence requires us to maximize possible benefits, while minimizing possible harms and consequently secure the well-being of others by refraining from harming them. Autonomy gives individuals the right to self-actualization and decision-making, while justice is concerned with the fair selection and distribution of the burdens and benefits of research among participants. Applications of these principles in cultural settings vary more often from one cultural perspective to the other because of the different understanding and practices of "what is good." The proponents of global ethics may argue that these principles should be universally generalizable and acceptable, but this is not possible because of the existing cultural diversities. In the African set-up, despite the existence of major common cultural practices, there are other norms and practices, which differ from one society to the other within the communities. Therefore, the word "global" bioethics may not be applicable generally in practice except if it can account for the structural dynamics and cultural differences within the complex societies in which we live in. However, the extent to which cultural diversity should be permitted to influence bioethical judgments in Africa, which at present is burdened with many diseases, should be of concern to researchers, ethicist and medical experts taking into considerations the constantly transforming global society. This topic examines the cultural influence on principles and practice of bioethics in Africa.

Keywords: Africa; Culture; Global bioethics.

Publication types

  • Review