The Bioethics debate: which lessons for Ghana?

By Prof. Alfred A. Oteng-Yeboah Chairman, Natural Sciences Committee, Ghana National UNESCO Commission

Public Lecture delivered on Thursday 26th June 2008 at the Teachers’ Hall, Accra as part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the National Commission for UNESCO


Bioethics as a concept is not new to the Ghanaian public because of the inherent ethical and moral nature of the society where in the past, public opinion held sway in the general behaviour of the people.

However, bioethics as a discipline is only known within the circle of academic and research institutions where aspects of it are taught as an examinable subject and also used in skills training in medical research.

Within the last few decades, things have changed in our society, partly blameable to globalisation and partly to urbanisation, and consequently the inherent discipline and public spiritedness that characterised the Ghanaian as a person and Ghana as a law abiding and disciplined society has gone.

As a result of new advances in research in biology, biochemistry, genetics and medicine in which heritable nature of living organisms are known and can be tampered with and even changed to create novel organisms and their products including new cells, tissues and organs, ethical and moral decisions in research have come under the international spotlight and scrutiny and have become very critical.

The good intentions in many of the new research breakthroughs are at risk of misapplication, if proper controls are not put in place and the technologies get into the hands of charlatans, terrorists and even bio-pirates to create things that will harm people and make the world unsafe.

UNESCO, through its International Bioethical Committee (IBC) and the Inter-governmental Bioethical Committee (IGBC) who have engaged and completely plunged themselves into general public debates, has invoked the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

and the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights (1997 and 1998), to provide inspiration to Parties, in their efforts to embrace the essential principles of bioethics, human dignity, freedom, justice, equity and solidarity, to draft legislation and or regulations.

This is the kind of lessons our country Ghana needs to undergo.

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