The rational logic of a thing is inevitably a reconstruction of its actual developing process in light of human understanding. That is to say, it is reasonable to investigate the circumstances and characteristics of a subject of matter from the perspective of the unity of its history and logic. Bioethics, a popular discipline in contemporary society, is no exception. This essay examines the shaping and development process of Chinese bioethics in the last thirty years.
Western bioethics was launched in the United States in the early 1970s. The development of Western bioethics reflects reasonable Western religious, moral, and social reactions to changing bioemedical realities in Western society. In other words, Western bioethics embodies a unity of history and logic in the West. However, this is not the case for Chinese bioethics. When Western bioethics was introduced to China in the late 1970s, it was adopted as a fashionable reaction to new biomedical technologies and their divorce from Western religion, culture, and ethics as a system of values. This was partly because there were political and ideological restrictions in China at that time, and partly because Chinese scholars lacked a comprehensive understanding of Western history and culture. Initially then, the Chinese had a very limited understanding of Western bioethics.
This defect has not been effectively overcome through the development of Chinese bioethics in the past thirty years. First, Chinese scholars have continued to introduce and discuss issues addressed in Western bioethics, and yet have ignored the biomedical and health care challenges confronting China. In analyzing Chinese issues, they have tended to copy Western bioethical theories, doctrines, and principles (especially the famous four principles proposed by Beauchamp and Childress), and to apply to them as norms. It seems that they have forgotten that China has long-standing moral traditions that are still pertinent to people’s lives in general, and to bioethical issues in particular. Fortunately, increasing numbers of Chinese scholars have recognized that a legitimate Chinese bioethics requires a reasonable reconstruction of Chinese metaphysical and ethical conceptions for dealing with contemporary Chinese problems. This is the only way to build a Chinese bioethics in its true sense of the unity of history and logic.