Traditional medicine and its ethical implications

In so far as traditional medicine has been mentioned on several occasions as a topic of particular relevance for developing countries and their national bioethics committees, the Bureau of IBC considered appropriate for IBC to focus on the ethical implications of traditional medicine in 2010-2011.  A small working group under the leadership of Dr Emilio La Rosa, which met in June 2010) was therefore entrusted to start the reflection on this issue.

Traditional medicine, as highlighted by the preliminary draft report of IBC and re-emphasized during the discussions of the meetings, is an issue that directly concerns the lives of major part of the world’s population, and as such is an important and timely subject for an analysis from the ethical perspective. Traditional medicine as a topic is shared by more than one specialized UN agency, and most importantly the World Health Organization. However, the fact that the use of traditional medicine raises fundamental ethical questions indicates that IBC’s role in examining the issue is pertinent.

The focus of this reflection will be on the ethical implications of traditional medicine, avoiding duplication with works already carried out/or being carried out by other UN agencies (the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) for example).

The preliminary results of this group were presented and discussed at the seventeenth (ordinary) session of IBC and at the joint session of IBC and IGBC in October 2010. 

The 17th session of IBC gave the opportunity to enlarge the reflection and hear from other experts outside the Committee who provided the Committee with comments and constructive input with a view to revising and completing the draft report.  Specialists from the Natural Sciences Sector and the Culture Sector of UNESCO presented programmes, reflection and activities within their Sector which are relevant for the current work of IBC and which can enrich and be taken into account in the further development of the draft document of IBC. In addition, a philosopher from Africa focused on the ethical aspects of traditional medicine and its practice in the region.

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