Human Rights and Cultural Diversity in UNESCO Bioethics

Human Rights and Cultural Diversity in UNESCO Bioethics, in Advancing Global Bioethics, Vol. 6: Religious Perspectives on Bioethics and Human Rights (Tham, Joseph, Man Kwan, Kai, Garcia, Alberto (Eds.) 2017, Springer Nature, New York, Forthcoming).

14 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2017 Last revised: 15 Aug 2017

John Lunstroth

UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights

Date Written: July 28, 2017

Abstract

In October 2005 UNESCO adopted the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights (Declaration) by acclamation. It purports to “enshrine bioethics in human rights” and ensure “respect for the life of human beings”, so that “human beings everywhere can benefit from the advances of science and technology within the framework of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

In this Article, after an introduction to the critiques of the Declaration, I provide a brief theoretical description of the various normative systems that constitute international order and then use this description to critique the Declaration’s attempt to ground itself in “human rights.” I include the ethical institution of science as one of the normative systems. The Declaration fails to adequately ground itself in human rights by its references to “dignity” and “human rights and fundamental freedoms” because none of those terms has a fixed legal or ethical meaning. The Declaration uses them as though they are basic norms in an international system of justice that protects the vulnerable, but I demonstrate that international order contains images of multiple systems of justice, all coordinated by a de facto oligarchic constitution, a constitution or system of justice that contradicts the intended meaning of “dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms” because it only protects the powerful. I then focus on the Declaration’s Article 12, which purports to protect cultural diversity. I demonstrate that it is incoherent as a norm, and that its incoherence reflects the background normative incoherence of the Declaration as a whole. I conclude with concrete suggestions for subsequent iterations of international bioethical norms, including grounding them in specific positive human rights norms rather than in “human rights” in general.

Keywords: human rights, international law, fundamental freedoms, dignity, UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, bioethics, cultural diversity, sources of norms, international legal theory, legal theory, justice, politics of science

Suggested Citation

Lunstroth, John, Human Rights and Cultural Diversity in UNESCO Bioethics (July 28, 2017). Human Rights and Cultural Diversity in UNESCO Bioethics, in Advancing Global Bioethics, Vol. 6: Religious Perspectives on Bioethics and Human Rights (Tham, Joseph, Man Kwan, Kai, Garcia, Alberto (Eds.) 2017, Springer Nature, New York, Forthcoming).. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3010471

John Lunstroth (Contact Author)

UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights ( email )

2410 Munger St.
Houston, TX 77023
United States
713 412 0077 (Phone)

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