Qatar Will Host the World’s Biggest Conference on Bioethics—and Scientists Hate It

On July 22, 2022, the International Society of Bioethics tweeted brings out some important news: The next World Bioethics Congress will be held in the Qatari city of Doha, in July 2024. Since 1992, the biennial conference has been the event. preeminent for researchers, professors, members of private medical and pharmaceutical organizations. industry and others to gather around to discuss the big questions about the right and wrong of medicine and research. Rapid advances around the role of public health initiatives in the wake of the COVID pandemic have particularly shed light on questions of bioethics.

Over the years, congresses have been held in Amsterdam, San Francisco, Sydney, Edinburgh and Mexico City. At each conference, hundreds of attendees gathered to hear lectures from prominent thinkers in the field. Group discussions discussed topics such as the best treatment that doctors should give transgender adolescents, and how aggressively the medical community should treat trauma patients. Severe traumatic brain injury and ethics in the management of elective plastic surgery.

The IAB has never held this event in any country in the Middle East.

“This congress provides a unique opportunity for IAB to expand its reach to new parts of the world and engage a wider variety of audiences,” IAB proudly in an announcement on its website. “The IAB welcomes the opportunity to build bridges between cultures, foster mutual learning among bioethicists from around the world, and in the process fulfill its mission of being a international association.”

By itself, none of this is particularly big news; Medical conferences are regularly held in the Middle East. Qatar itself is scheduled to host the International Conference on Recent Advances in Medical, Medical and Health Sciences in October. In May, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates will be the host of the World Congress on Patient Safety & Nursing Healthcare. That same month, the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases will take place in Egypt.

But Qatar’s hosting of the world’s largest conference on bioethics has sparked a backlash in the academic community. “Really a great place to talk about LGBTI rights,” tweeted Spanish professor Inigo de Miguel Beriain. (Beriain did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast.)

Elsewhere on Twitter, Tereza Hendl, a philosopher and bioethicist at Germany’s Augsburg University, wrote that the decision to hold the conference in Qatar brought her “sadness, pain and disappointment.”

Hendl added: “Holding a major congress on bioethics in a country that criminalizes and persecutes LGBTQIA+ people signals that these lives in Qatar, as well as their participation, and safety LGBTQIA+ bioethicists are being violated for the ‘greater cause’ and this will trouble us morally. (Hendl declined to comment further when contacted by The Daily Beast.)

This is not the first time in recent memory that Qatar’s laws and policies against LGBTQ people have provoked debate over whether international events should be allowed. In the years leading up to the 2022 World Cup and through the event itself, Football governing body FIFA and the government of Qatar have been the target of heavy criticism; activists pointed to the government’s anti-LGBTQ policies and FIFA’s subsequent decision to punish players who promised to wear rainbow armbands. And that’s on top of allegations of corruption and the treatment of migrant workers sent into manual labor (some estimates put the death toll of migrants). also into the thousands).

To many, it makes no sense that a conference dedicated to discussing the ethical issues of providing medical treatment to vulnerable people should be held in a country with a political policies marginalize and mistreat other vulnerable populations. On the one hand are defenders of the IAB choice, arguing that the meeting in Doha helps broaden the scope of the bioethics community’s debate, a goal that cannot be achieved by staying away from these areas. world where governments can be uncomfortable. On the other side are those who raise concerns about everything from Qatar’s human rights record to its disproportionate carbon footprint.

For the most part, the debate took on the civilian tone one might expect from a field filled with philosophers. Even on Twitter, name calling is non-existent. But the back-and-forth has escalated to the point where it needs to be formally resolved. In February, a group of scholars from three Dutch universities published letter in the magazine bioethics Outline their concerns.

Personally, I wouldn’t go to countries where I could be arrested just because I am who I am.

Josh Hyatt, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

Among those concerns is that freedom of speech at the conference could be stifled. In 2020, the government enacted new laws punishing “anyone who distributes, publishes or reposts false or biased rumors, statements or news, or inciting propaganda, domestically or abroad.” , with the aim of harming the national interest, stirring up public opinion, or infringing upon the social system or public system of the state” with a sentence of up to three years in prison. The law has drawn condemnation from Amnesty International, which has noted that freedom of expression has been severely restricted by the regime.

Critics also point to strict anti-LGBTQ measures, including arbitrary detention, where those arrested face physical attacks by security officers. They wrote that they feared the conference could be seen as “ethically washing away a dictatorship” and that the diversity of attendees would be limited due to government policies regarding LGBTQ people, as well like women, who are subject to strict regulations. guardianship law that severely limits what they can do both in public and in private.

All of the Dutch academics who authored the letter declined to comment when contacted. But some who were originally hoping to attend the convention told The Daily Beast they now plan to boycott after the IAB chose Doha as host.

Josh Hyatt, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts College of Health and Pharmaceutical Sciences who identifies as gay, said: “I was surprised that they chose a country with such a bad human rights record in relation to it. to the LGBT community, among others. “And personally I’m not going to countries where I can be arrested just because I’m who I am.”

IAB President Nancy Jecker, a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, declined to comment when approached by The Daily Beast. However, in May she wrote a response to the Dutch letter in bioethics, published by the same journal. In it, Jecker acknowledges that the ethics of conference geography is important, but counters that if the human rights record were considered, the 67 countries that criminalize consensual homosexual activity would be immediately excluded. immediately, as well as 39% of the world. without a democratic government.

“Like our colleagues, we seek authentic exchange. However, this cannot happen when hiding from countries,” she wrote, adding that the IAB had received assurances from the Center for Islamic Law and Ethics at Hamad bin University. Khalifa, organizer of the conference that there will be no restrictions on topics or words.

In another letter to bioethics, published in May, a group of Qatari ethicists from the university who have led the effort to bring the congress to their country said the criticism was hypocritical, due to historicism. bloody colonization of many European countries.

“Rather than ‘set the conditions’ whose implementation would make a country a ‘free friend’ or ‘human rights’ sufficient to host the WCB, we argue that bioethicists should engage in intercultural and critical communication,” the Qatari ethicists wrote. “The aim should be to secure a better future for bioethics by ‘ethicalizing’, not ‘politicizing’.”

Mohammed Galy, one of the authors of the letter and the founder Islamic Ethics Magazine told The Daily Beast that the conference will be unique in that it will include discussions on the intersection of faith, specifically Islam, and bioethics, a topic that has been overlooked during the sessions. previous version.

“Most importantly for us is that by hosting the World Congress in Doha, we will raise the bar for globalism in the field of bioethics,” he said.

Galy, who is originally from Egypt and has lived and studied in the Netherlands, said he understands the concerns of Dutch academics, as he had similar thoughts before taking the job in Qatar.

“We are ethically obligated to take these concerns seriously and provide our response to them,” he said.

Some have pointed out that this is not the first time the IAB has chosen to hold its conference in a country with a dubious human rights record. In 2006, Beijing was the host city, despite China’s anti-democratic government, which restricts freedom of expression and suppresses religious minorities, while in 2010 the bioethics congress held in Singapore, a country with strict regulations on freedom of expression and that, at the time, criminalized sex between men.

G. Owen Schaefer, assistant professor at the National University of Singapore’s Center for Biomedical Ethics, not only looks forward to attending the Qatar congress, but also submits a brief that he hopes will earn him a position. speech mind. While not in Singapore in 2010, he pointed out that the country hosted the International Conference on Clinical Ethics Advice in 2017. That conference, Schaefer said, went on and ended without. any major debate or objection.

“We didn’t hear that people wouldn’t want to come because of the problems with Singapore or anything like that,” he said. “There hasn’t been any such outcry compared to now. We do not have editorials in bioethics cause concern in this area. We don’t have any censorship issues or people not being able to present material as they see fit.”

Given that history, Galy agrees that it is strange that concerns about the human rights record have never been raised in the history of the World Bioethics Congress. Because of his experience living in other countries, Galy said he “understands that some of my Dutch colleagues, British, German, any country will feel uncomfortable when they hear the name Qatar, or any other Arab or Muslim country. I would understand the same feelings that people here, in this part of the world, would feel uncomfortable with, such as the United States.

“But it’s” [it] because of racism, or higher cultural or moral views? I can’t judge this,” Galy said.

It is ironic that the very place where ethical questions in medicine will be debated becomes a question of ethics in itself—a question that is sure to come up a lot during the World Congress of Bioethics. next year. It is not yet clear whether attendance will be affected and how the final decision may affect the trust and confidence in the IAB to continue hosting the event. Scientists, doctors and philosophers will have to find ethics for themselves.


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