Luísa Neto • Guilhermina Rego • Rui Nunes
The pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and the associated disease COVID-19 radically transformed the world, and at very different levels. On the one hand, the planet became suddenly smaller since, due to its characteristics, the pandemic was, and still is, a global phenomenon that attacks everyone without distinction. It is therefore urgent to reformulate the global responses and the international governance institutions that support it. In this and other areas such as climate action, the protection of the seabed or migration policies.
But, on the other hand, the world has become more distant, as the sharing of scientific knowledge and, above all, access to pharmaceuticals and vaccination have been carried out in a way that is incompatible with a vision of global justice that we all share. We collectively have to do better in the future, although it is worth highlighting the existence of relevant efforts for developing countries such as COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access), an international initiative to promote equitable access to vaccination, involving different partners such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF, or CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) and GAVI (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). This is an excellent example of a solidary international effort to promote global health. At European level the European Health Union was another important development to unite peoples with substantially different historical and cultural traditions. And to prevent future catastrophes of this nature.
The pandemic due to COVID-19 also demonstrated what many knew and others did not want to see. The importance of a strong, robust and resilient welfare state in order to address health and public health problems that require coordinated intersectoral efforts in the areas of health, social security, education, logistics, etc. The post-pandemic message is then the strengthening of social protection systems, universality in access to health and the importance of good and modern public management. So the question is no longer the legitimacy of the welfare state itself, but how the existing welfare model in each country should be optimised to serve everyone without any kind of discrimination.
But thinking about the post-pandemic future means thinking about a new phase of human rights, rights that are clearly evident for example in the International Bill of Human Rights, a progressive refinement of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Why, because it is necessary to globally consolidate, among others, the right to health protection, or because it is essential to design models of ethical prioritisation so as not to unfoundedly discriminate against anyone, due for example to age, gender or income level.
These and other reflections cannot forget the vertiginous digital transition that has taken place over the last year and a half. Nothing is the same with the systematic use of telemedicine and other e-health modalities, with the advent of artificial intelligence and its algorithms that understand and interpret our emotions, with automated robotics and its impact on the world of work. Potentiating the advent of new inequalities, now technologically based, and disconnected from the traditional concept of nation state. The impact of global digital platforms on life and health also needs a global reappraisal, and new regulatory instruments to protect what we have most intimate, our life, our privacy and our freedom.
These and other issues serve as the basis for a reflection that the 17th National Congress on Bioethics aims to carry out, a joint initiative of the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto, the Centre for Legal Research and the Portuguese Bioethics Association. The congress will feature leading members of Portuguese and Brazilian academia and distinguished figures on the European scientific, legal and public policy-making scene.
Due to the themes it addresses, the personalities involved and the debate it will surely provoke, the 17th National Bioethics Congress may be considered a congress of hope. Hope for a fairer globalization, for the construction of more solidary societies, and for a scientific and technological development with a truly human face.
Oporto, November 26th, 2021
The Organising Committee
Luísa Neto . Guilhermina Rego . Rui Nunes