Bioethics casebook to guide courtrooms

BAC chair and retired judge Richard Magnus is one of the 12 authors who will prepare the bioethics casebook.
BAC chair and retired judge Richard Magnus is one of the 12 authors who will prepare the bioethics casebook.

Experts in law, medicine and ethics from all over the world gathered in Singapore this week to begin work on a bioethics casebook that will help courtrooms navigate the complexities encountered in medical and biological research.

Singapore's recent court decision on an in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) mix-up will be included.

In the 2010 incident, a woman and her husband went for IVF treatment, but a stranger's sperm - instead of her husband's - was used to fertilise the woman's extracted eggs. It is a landmark decision because courts around the world have rejected claims for upkeep costs on the basis that wrongful birth/life claims are contrary to public policy.

The courts have generally taken the view that the birth of a healthy child is a blessing and should not be taken to be a mistake.

But Singapore's Court of Appeal is the first in the world to recognise "loss of genetic affinity" as a new actionable head of damages, said a spokesman for Singapore's Bioethics Advisory Committee (BAC).

The casebook effort, an initiative by the Unesco Bioethics Team, aims to encourage reflection on the ethical and social aspects of problems posed in courtrooms, in addition to the legal dimension of cases.

"Landmark decisions from jurisdictions around the world will be analysed in the casebook, taking into account geographical balance, as well as respect for the social and cultural dimension of bioethics in different countries," said the spokesman for the BAC, which is producing the book jointly with the Unesco Bioethics Team.

The 12 authors will include BAC chair and retired judge Richard Magnus, who is also a vice-chair of the Unesco International Bioethics Committee (IBC); former justice of the High Court of Australia Michael Kirby; and Professor Johannes van Delden, immediate past president of the Council for International Organisations of Medical Sciences, chair of the Unesco IBC, and professor of medical ethics at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

The book is targeted for publication early next year and will be available online. It will be the first Unesco publication under Singapore's banner. It will help entrench the nation's values in bioethics and rule-based governance, said the BAC spokesman.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2017, with the headline Bioethics casebook to guide courtrooms. Subscribe