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Intergenerational global heath

Editorial for the 12(1) issue of the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

By David M. Shaw and Leigh E. Rich

This special issue of the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry focuses on global health and associated bioethical concerns. As a concept, global health broadens the focus from national public health situations to the international sphere and concerns itself with the health of all humans, but particularly those in developing countries who suffer from severe health inequalities. However, there is one sense in which global health is lacking: Its primary focus is on those currently alive and, in some cases, their offspring. But what about future generations, who may suffer from even more pronounced inequalities? In this editorial, we consider the bioethical implications of failing to adopt an intergenerational concept of global health.

One of the major strengths of global health is its emphasis on disenfranchised populations who do not enjoy the advantages of the medical systems of developed countries. By drawing attention to the issues that affect billions of disadvantaged people around the world, global health campaigns attempt to reduce the moral distance that makes many in developed countries neglect the needs of those most in need in other countries. It is unsurprising that governments (and people donating to charity) have tended to focus on looking after their own citizens first, but increasing public awareness of the effects of disease, famine, drought, and natural disasters—and how such events may have ramifications on distant, seemingly unconnected populations—has in turn led to greater investment in improving global health, with beneficial consequences for those most immediately affected.

However, it can be argued that global health does not go far enough. First, although some work is currently being done in this area, we still tend to paint the “global world” with a broad and unwieldy brush. Health, economic, social, and political disparities occur in the developing world but also throughout societies that seemingly should have health-promoting and health-protecting infrastructures in place as well as access to health care and socioeconomic opportunities for their citizens. As Hans Rosling demonstrates in a 2006 TED Talk, there’s “a tremendous variation” within global health regions and within countries (Rosling 2006, 10:17), but we continue to view the world from a binary perspective (rich–poor, developed–developing) and “look at the average data of the countries” (Rosling 2006, 13:40). [continued …]

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Shaw, David M., and Leigh E. Rich. 2015. Intergenerational global heath: Editorial for the 12(1) issue. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 12(1): 1–4.

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