Launch of an International Conference and Association for Ethics Education

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The inaugural international conference on education in ethics was held May 1-3, 2012. The conference was hosted by the Center for Healthcare Ethics at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. The Center conducts scholarship and teaching consistent with the Catholic identity of its sponsoring Spiritan congregation. At the same time, the Center is open to ecumenical approaches and seeks to take a global perspective on healthcare ethics. Nearly 200 delegates attended the conference, which included presentations by four people who are familiar to friends of CBHD, namely: Nigel Cameron, Robert Orr, Dennis Sullivan, and myself.

The Director of the Center since 2010 is Professor Henk ten Have, MD, PhD. As the former Director of the Division of Ethics of Science and Technology at UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), Professor ten Have has made global bioethics his primary area of research and scholarship. That emphasis was apparent at the conference, which had presenters from North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Middle East. This brought a rich diversity of backgrounds and interests that is infrequently found at conferences. In addition, many different professional fields were represented, with breakout sessions focused on medicine, nursing, pharmacy, biosciences, teaching, business, and others.

The Catholic ethos of the Center and Duquesne University was apparent, while a wide variety of religious and nonreligious perspectives were presented at the conference. A small number of presentations addressed explicitly Christian themes, with others looking at the challenges of developing ethics education in Islamic or Eastern cultures. Many of the presentations focused on the pragmatic aspects of developing clinical and academic ethics programs, and teaching in the classroom and online. A number of presentations reported on empirical research and the effectiveness of ethics education, while at the same time there was also quite some debate about the feasibility or wisdom of measuring the effectiveness of ethics education programs.

Ethics education in low income countries was a prominent theme throughout the conference. The challenges faced by both educators and students were regularly discussed. In some instances, the challenges arose from ethics being viewed as a Western subject that has little connection with other cultures. When organizations and institutions who once supported ethically questionable research or healthcare practices are now promoting ethics education, concerns are warranted. On the other hand, some of the challenges arise due to limited finances, or lack of resources in the languages of many countries. It was encouraging to see those from many different countries taking an active role in developing ethics education that is appropriate to local communities. A number of innovative projects were presented. At the same time, some debate arose about whether ethics education should be based on universal principles and standards, or whether each culture should teach approaches appropriate to its setting. Little was resolved on such challenging topics, but at least the conference brought together those directly involved in ethics education for open and frank discussions.

The conference also marked the inaugural meeting of the International Association for Education in Ethics (IAEE). This non-profit organization has recently been incorporated with a number of significant aims that will be of interest to CBHD. These include enhancing the teaching of ethics at national, regional, and international levels; exchanging and analyzing experiences in teaching ethics in various educational settings; promoting the development of knowledge and methods of ethics education; and facilitating communication between ethics educators from around the world. The initiative for the association came from UNESCO to address issues in ethics education on a global level.

The association has more than one hundred individual members and two institutional members within its first year of existence. The primary ways the IAEE will seek to achieve its aims are through conferences and its website. Its website is currently located within that of the Duquesne Center for Healthcare Ethics (, but an independent website is to be developed in the near future. At the IAEE General Assembly there was much interest in making this a global website for sharing ethics education resources, linking to other significant resources, and providing a forum for secure discussions about ethics education between members. As such, this website promises to become a valuable resource for ethics education. The IAEE will hold its next conference in May 2014 in Turkey, with plans for the next one after that in Brazil in 2015. These conferences, and the IAEE, promise to be interesting venues for debate about bioethics and how ethics education can really help to improve the well-being of people around the world.