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Abstract

A prima facie impression of philosophic literature on bioethics in Africa reveals attempts to differentiate ‘African bioethics’ from ‘Western bioethics’. African intellectuals express concern about the wholesale importation of bioethical norms from the West without sufficient input from indigenous value systems that are more consonant to Sub Saharan African (SSA) peoples.

Of course, Africa is a vast continent with countries facing different challenges. For example, the life threatening ethical questions surrounding discrimination towards albinos in parts of Tanzania are not present in Ghana, nor are the witch camps of Gambaga in Northern Ghana present in Namibia. Nevertheless, it is possible to identify and group the bioethical concerns of Sub Saharan African countries (SSA). Even though cultural globalization is increasingly exporting many aspects of Euro-American lifestyles, there are some bioethical issues that are hotly debated in Europe and North America, like human cloning, stem cell research, partial birth abortion, physician assisted suicide, that are less urgent in SSA. Other issues that feature in SSA, such as communitarian participation in informed consent, the interdependence of the spiritual and the physical, and poverty related abuses, are less present in Europe, North America and those parts of the world generically called the West.

My goal is to tease out and present the current bioethical challenges that are common and peculiar to the lives of people living in SSA following Samuel Gorovitz’ definition of bioethics as “the critical examination of the moral dimensions of decision-making in health-related contexts and in contexts involving the biological sciences.”

Questions of bioethical concern in SSA can be grouped under 5 broad themes: health care ethics; bioethics of communo-cultural practices; bioethics of consumerism and corruption; natural resources and environmental bioethics; bioethical neo-colonialism.

After analysing each of these challenges, I proceed to offer 10 commonsensical guidelines for bioethics in Africa.

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