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Ethicist Discusses Challenges of Adopting Western Medical Research in Other Cultures

Erika Beras
90.5 WESA

Godfrey B. Tangwa, founder and chairperson of the Cameroon Bioethics Initiative, spoke to a group of a few dozen people at Duquesne University on Thursday.

An ethicist, Tangwa spoke about the challenges of adopting Western medical research in non-Western areas. He started off by discussing how Western culture is different than non-Western cultures.

“It is a dominant culture ... there is nothing wrong if you happen to be dominant, but it is also domineering. Which now is a value judgment. It is proselytizing. It is outward looking. We could caricature Western culture by saying that it’s a culture with the attitude, ‘We know all that is knowable. What we do not know does not count as knowledge.'  

"African culture, on the other hand, is predominantly an oral culture. I describe it as being echo-bio communitarian, which is to say that the relationship between inanimate and the living world, the world of human beings is still a very closed relationship. They are interwoven into each other.”

He spoke about culture and morality.

“There is no culture that is not concerned with morality, with right and wrong, in human actions and human behavior,” he said. 

Tangwa spoke about the characteristics of industrialized world medical research — and its faults.

“It is market-oriented," he said. "It is profit-driven. Certainly packaged, totalistic in its global outreach. And therefore susceptible to morally blind economic forces. Because of that, it tends to have a high degree of ad-hock rationalizations and ethical justifications,” he said. 

Tangwa also spoke about how that all of this fits in with the Ebola epidemic that has killed more than 10,000 people in Africa in the past year, posing the question of whether a drug or vaccine could ethically be tried and carried out in the context of an epidemic.