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Christian Bioethics

2002, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 199207

1380-3603/02/0802-199$16.00
# Swets & Zeitlinger

Globalization and Universality: Chimera and Truth


Georgios Mantzarides

School of Theology, University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece

I. BIOETHICS, THE ETHICS OF GLOBALIZATION

Address correspondence to: Georgios Mantzarides, Ph.D., School of Theology, University of


Thessaloniki, University Campus 54006, Thessaloniki, Greece.

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One of the heritages that the past centuries left us is contemporary bioethics: a
science with a great possibility for knowledge and very limited content. This
phenomenon should not be considered a paradox if we take into consideration
that this science is called to coordinate the most disparate opinions on crucial
and debatable issues of human life. For this reason, there is an abundance of
literature on problems of bioethics, while the conclusions drawn are poor.
The eld of bioethics appeared in the frontline of the scientic interest
during the 60's. Research on human life is considered primarily as its subject.
Indeed, bioethics is involved in all problems of classical as well as modern
medical ethics concerning human life. The reason that brought bioethics in the
frontline of interest is the rapid development of biology and its application to
medicine. Thus, bioethics is presented as an expansion of medical ethics and
focuses its interest on problems created mainly by the intrusion of biology and
application of modern medical technology to the entire process of the
beginning, growth and ultimate end of human life.
More specically, bioethics examines the ethical problems which are
connected with: a) sterility, assisted reproduction, articial insemination,
prenatal examination, birth control, abortion and other related problems, b) the
interventions for preserving or improving human life, cloning, receipt and
transplantation of tissues and organs, and c) dealing with the last phase of life,
passive and active euthanasia and other relevant issues.
More precisely, the examination of the aforementioned problems forms the
subject of biomedical ethics, because bioethics is expanded to the entire living

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world and examines the relationships of man with this world. Since biomedical ethics forms the most important section of bioethics, the name
``bioethics'' is customarily used when referring to biomedical ethics. Finally,
many people extend the interests of this science beyond the living world by
including the whole environment and environmental issues which are
associated with the various areas of human life.
It is natural for the confrontation of bioethical as well as ethical problems
to be determined by a respective anthropology or even cosmology. When there
is a commonly accepted basis regarding man and the world, then it is natural
that a respective agreement on the confrontation and solution of bioethical
problems be reached. However, when there is no common basis, many
differences and oppositions appear as a result.
Within the contemporary multi-cultural and globalizing society, the
differences and oppositions on anthropological and cosmological issues are
many and essential. These phenomena are intense even within the areas that
have received inuence from Christian tradition. In fact, here, the differences
and oppositions, become more signicant by the spreading and prevalence of
secularization which takes away from man and the world every transcendental
dimension and perspective.
Bioethics, by attempting to prevent and control the more general
developments created by the rapid growth of biology and medical technology,
is moving almost exclusively on an impersonal level. It objecties procedures
and regards human beings as numbers. It tries to deal with general situations
and not with persons or interpersonal relations. It focuses its interest on the
examination of unprecedented problems and looks to solve them on a
universal level based on very general principles. For this reason, when it is not
expressed within the context of a religious denomination or faith, it sets aside,
as much as it can, the religious, metaphysical or other views of the world and
attempts to rely on utilitarian principles or values which may become more
widely accepted. Hence, the following principles are projected in bioethics: a)
autonomy, b) avoidance of causing damage or pain, c) benevolence and d)
justice (see Baumgartner, 1998, p. 65; Beauchamp, 1993, p. 9; Brinbacher,
1993, p. 53; Koios, 2000, p. 844).
These principles, which are usually interpreted from various angles, are
proved to be exible or controversial in practice. In addition, nowadays the
loosening of ethical principles and values in society is also a fact. Even
conditions contrary to nature, such as homosexuality, are recognized as natural
and become established. When man is denuded from every spiritual property

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and is identied with his biological functions, all these things follow and are
considered normal.
Given these facts, anthropology still remains the principal basis of bioethics
upon which contemporary medicine is founded. This anthropology, which
is essentially foreign to Christian anthropology, is mechanistic and onedimensional. But it is natural for a mechanistic and one-dimensional
anthropology to be unable to support real ethics. Ethics is always considered
as a movement from being to well being. When being is regarded mechanistically and one-dimensionally, then well being is simply considered as a
mechanistic or eudaemonistic development of being and not as a qualitative or
spiritual growth.
Bioethics, being a pragmatic science (see Bernard, 1996, p. 72), tries to
approach often by gasping or observing from a distance the scientic
development in medicine and biology in order to formulate suggestions which
will support their positive sides and limit their negative ones. The speed and
perplexity of these developments, however, often hinder the complete
understanding of things and the formulation of mature proposals. Thus,
bioethics appears usually as rolling and constantly changing ethics which is
guided by research laboratories, assessed by political and nancial factors and
promoted by informatics and the mass media. It has no difculty in accepting
euthanasia, acknowledging abortions as a means of therapy or serving
eugenics and, thus, promoting racism.
The various bioethics committees, despite their conscientious efforts, are
restricted to a counseling role, as it is natural, which inuences very little the
ow of things. Their chief practical effect is the inuence they can exercise on
the formation of legislation or the enlightenment of the wider public. The
latter applies more to religious bioethics committees and the impact of their
positions on the faithful. Finally, the religious and metaphysical viewpoints or
beliefs about the world and inhibitions that function within society or the
researchers themselves are of utmost importance and place things under an
expressly ethical perspective and create essential ethical questioning. These
are regarded, however, within the wider system as transient phenomena, which
are attributed to social or psychological remnants and are pushed aside by the
new customs.
Here we see a basic parameter of ethics being activated that is linked with
its very name: custom. Ethos is directly related to usage, namely custom.
(Also, the word ethos (which is a Greek word) derives etymologically from the
Greek word synethia which means usage.) Respectively, ethics is connected

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directly to custom. The purpose of ethics was always to help man acquire good
customs since his young age. The identity of ethics, however, was not located
in the custom itself, but in its quality. And this tends to be forgotten.
Today, custom is considered by many people an adequate reason for
justifying any practice, when this presents some kind of usefulness.
Especially, when ethical reactions appear on issues concerning the application
of modern medical technology, the technocrats ignore them and consider them
as secondary obstacles that will be pushed aside by the new custom. Indeed,
almost all reactions, which are created at times for ethical reasons by the
applications of medical technology, recede immediately, while the latter
prevail as routine applications even if they oppose basic religious or ethical
principles. Something equivalent exists also in the broader area of social and
political life. It sufces to promote a certain illegality so as to make it a custom
and legalized it. When we take into consideration the faster rhythm of changes
in the eld of biomedical applications as well as the guided information of the
public, it becomes obvious that the customs which are created are chimeric
and, basically, unaffected by the testing of time. Simultaneously, the
promotion of religious principles or commandments is characterized by the
representatives of secular bioethics as fundamentalism and is looked down
upon or ridiculed. However, all these proclaim the loosening of the ethical
conscience and a deep spiritual crisis.
Finally, it is characteristic that bioethics today tends to displace completely
classical ethics that has as its main subject the personal life and interpersonal
relationships of human beings. Besides, the real displacement of ethics began
long ago within a theological frame by its detachment from the so-called
spirituality and then by the autonomy and almost exclusive promotion of
social ethics. So, while social ethics was projected in the West since the mid of
last century, later on the western theologians who were involved in ethics
became almost exclusively interested in bioethics. This is already being
promoted more widely as the ethics of globalisation; namely, as the ethics that
attempts to connect human beings with various tendencies and viewpoints
before the speculations on applications of contemporary medicine and biology
and to promote the homogenization of the criteria to confront them. At the
same time, the view that the ethical life of man is determined biologically is
also being cultivated.
This phenomenon does not provoke special impression, but is considered
natural because it is supported also by the ideology of contemporary science
(Lewontin, 1993, pp. 31f.). The process of globalization with all its positive

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and negative elements, its chimeric nature and usefulness forms the climate
within which this mentality grows. Happiness and unhappiness, life and
health, prosperity and failure are examined and estimated by quantities and
numbers. Moreover, many researchers of bioethics attribute the ethical and
social manifestations of man, but also his very civilization, to the biochemical
functions of human genes (see Wilson, 2000, pp. 21, 124130).1 In this way,
human society is identied with the amount of individuals it includes and
these, in turn, with the amount of their genes. How could anyone today ignore
this logic or detach it from his life? And how could someone think ethically or
behave socially by ignoring these facts?
Bioethics, as the deontology of globalization, is directly linked with the
tradition of secularized Christianity of the West and, especially, to western
ethics. It is an ethics with a legal character, such as the western ethics that are
part of its basis. The general principles it projects do not constitute ultimately
points of convergence of human beings but ``vaulting horses'' of individual
oppositions. There are similar to the principles of the so-called social ethics
which can be interpreted and applied depending on the interests and desires of
those in power.
Of course, in the eld of ethics there was always the tendency to promote
general and panhuman principles for shaping the human ethos. This is
observed also in Christian ethics with its well-known golden rule: ``So
whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them'' (Matt 7:12).
However, this general rule of Christian ethics is explicitly different from the
rules and principles that are projected in bioethics.
By this golden rule, man is called to place himself in the position of the
other person and act towards him in a way that he would have liked the other
person to act towards himself. In other words, the golden rule is addressed to
the human person and is activated by the understanding and compassion of the
other person. It cultivates closeness and sets aside isolation. It creates unity
and turns away disruption.
The same does not apply to the principles of bioethics; more accurately, the
exact opposite exists. When the rst principle of bioethics, the principle of
autonomy, is absolutised, it does not bring human beings close to each other
but isolates them; it does not unite them, but disrupts them. Certainly, this
principle seems to respect the distinctiveness of each individual. However, this
respect is proven de facto to be chimeric, since it is not possible for the
principle of autonomy of the individual to be placed rst when society needs
unity and has nowhere to support it. If the individual is absolutised society is

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disrupted. For this reason, those in authority project their arbitrariness as a


unifying factor of society. And the laws come to restrict this arbitrariness. On
the level of ethics, however, absolutizing autonomy and placing it before every
other collective concept or value leads to confusion and incoherence.
Certainly, Christian ethics also has autonomy as its ideal. However,
autonomy is not realized by the individual's juxtaposition to society, but
comes as a fruit of the ethical and spiritual maturity of man by following the
double commandment of love. Man becomes autonomous by shattering his
egoism, embracing his neighbor and by, ultimately, unifying within him the
entire theanthropic being (Sophrony, 1996, p. 159). Thus, its perfection as a
person is realized.
In the Orthodox Church, it is natural for the problems of bioethics to be
placed within the frame of Christian ethics. Besides, from the very beginning,
the ethical teaching of the Church dealt also with matters of bioethics such as
abortion, euthanasia or infanticide (see Breck, 1998, p. 6; Engelhardt, 2000,
pp. 7ff.). This means that they ought to be examined on the same basis and
within the same perspective that ethical matters are examined. Within this
context, one could also speak about Christian ethics. Namely, the discrimination of bioethics from the ethics within the Church cannot have the meaning of
autonomy and autotelic consideration of the rst by the latter but solely of
their methodological differentiation. Hence, the confrontation of bioethical as
well as ethical matters ought to be based on Orthodox Christian anthropology
and cosmology. It ought to regard its problems within the perspective of man's
theosis in Christ and of the restoration of the world.
A basic precondition of ethical behavior for man is that he is not the cause
of his existence but ``has the being borrowed'' (Maximos the Confessor).
When man is not conscious of this, it is natural to exceed his limits and deify
himself. Besides, the utmost principle of Christian ethics is the hypostatic
beginning or the beginning of the person, from which the more specic
principles and methodologies of ethics and social life derive their meaning and
functionality.
The human person does not constitute a static fact but a dynamic process.
This begins from the moment of conception and expands in innity. However,
innity for Christianity is not impersonal or super personal but a Person. More
accurately, it is a Trinity of Persons. Finally, the birth of man and his growth
presuppose and express communion. The person cannot be considered as an
isolated individual because it always exists in communion. And true communion is realized within the theanthropic communion, the Church. Before

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the danger of man being buried as a person underneath the pile of his genes,
the Orthodox Christian ethics presents its unlimited perspective of his
perfection and theosis.
Christian ethics grows and develops within the human person. Its character
that focuses on the human person, surely, is not in harmony with the beliefs
that prevail in the eld of bioethics. It is natural for the principles and
methodology of bioethics to be regarded critically from the Christian viewpoint. Orthodox bioethics can help contemporary bioethics more as antibioethics; as ethics that sees man and his problems within a transcendental
perspective. It can project the inestimable value of the person and remind of
the spherical character of life that is forgotten through the one-dimensional
consideration of life. Finally, by focusing on the human person, it can
contribute to a better application of the principles projected in bioethics.
The view that science is in a position to lead man to an ethical
determination of his life is false. On the other hand, however, correct ethical
judgement also needs the correct scientic background. More specically, in
regards to bioethical matters the responsible updating of the public is
necessary. Every use or avoidance of the means and possibilities offered by
modern biotechnology and genetic engineering needs special updating.
Science itself is unable to lead to ethical conclusions; likewise, ethics is also
unable to respond correctly to contemporary speculation without the required
scientic information.
Human life is not consumed on the biological level but has a spiritual
level, too. Besides, this is where its ethical character is revealed. This ethical
character of life is not only cultivated within smooth and pleasant biological
situations and functions, but also within unpleasant and problematic ones.
Within the world, the distinctiveness of man as a logic being with free will
determines, on one hand, the catholic consideration of life and, on the other
hand, the responsible assessment and confrontation of its specic factors.
Pleasure and afiction, the two basic poles around which life revolves, do not
exist in order to incapacitate but to ensure the correct function of logic and free
will of man.
The virus of globalization, namely money, which makes pleasure and
comfort easy, is the means by which the one-dimensional version of bioethics
is consolidated. Money and, more precisely, easy prot, holds a prevailing
position, especially, in the exploitation of the environment and the modication of the nutritional means where the negative consequences of man's
interventions do not become directly noticeable. Also in the eld of

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NOTE
1. For a critical viewpoint of this position see Lewontin (1993, pp. 37ff.).

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extent by the nancial and political interests of those in power.
The mission of bioethics within this context does not only lie in the
promotion of principles that will place certain barriers and restrictions on the
arbitrariness of the political, nancial and other factors. Since the power and
the involvement of these factors in the process of globalisation are proved
catalytic for ethical values and principles, the only real hope may rely on the
human person. When selessness, love and ethical sensitivity grow in the
person and when the person starts to live the life of the spirit, then the onedimensional ethics is pushed aside.
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and its spiritual and eternal dimensions to open up. It becomes clear that man
is not only his genes. It is understood that pain and disease do not constitute
fatal evils that can extinguish man, but they are offered as possibilities than
can operate positively for his completion as a person and a member of society.
Thus, the true participation in the pain of our neighbour becomes possible and
forms an essential factor of social life and social cohesion.
Within this perspective, contemporary bioethics, too, can perceive a
dimension so far unknown to it. It can become interested in the spiritual eld
and render a more substantial content to its loose principles. It can even
transfer the center of its gravity from objects and impersonal procedures to
persons and personal relationships.

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