Is India’s highly skewed sex ratio right or wrong? This is the contentious issue that Angus Dawson, of the University of Birmingham, the president of the International Association of Bioethics, tackled in his presidential address at the 11th World Congress last year. (It has just been published in the July issue of the journal Bioethics.) He was attempting to get his listeners to peer into the future of bioethics.
Lay listeners seeking a clear and definitive answer would have been disappointed. Dawson disapproved of the epidemic of aborted girls, but was rather vague about why. “Bioethics can never be reduced to a set of particular principles, nor can it simply involve a commitment to a particular theory or method, nor does it make any sense to think of bioethics as involving the pursuit or creation of a single overarching text or declaration.”
Nonetheless, the president of the IAB regards himself as moral realist and a resolute foe of moral relativism. He opposes schools of bioethics which adopts as the norm whatever is legal, or whatever maximises autonomy, or whatever is socially accepted, or declares that all norms are morally relative. “We should not be afraid to be critical of some practices once we have come to understand them. When something is wrong, we should say so.”
But why is sex-selective abortion wrong? Not sure.
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