J Med Ethics 30:63-67 doi:10.1136/jme.2003.003194
  • Global research ethics

Between universalism and relativism: a conceptual exploration of problems in formulating and applying international biomedical ethical guidelines

  1. G B Tangwa
  1. Correspondence to:
 G B Tangwa
 University of Yaounde 1, Yaounde, Cameroon;
  • Received 20 January 2003
  • Accepted 8 December 2003
  • Revised 27 October 2003


In this paper, the author attempts to explore some of the problems connected with the formulation and application of international biomedical ethical guidelines, with particular reference to Africa. Recent attempts at revising and updating some international medical ethical guidelines have been bedevilled by intractable controversies and wrangling regarding both the content and formulation. From the vantage position of relative familiarity with both African and Western contexts, and the privilege of having been involved in the revision and updating of one of the international ethical guidelines, the author reflects broadly on these issues and attempts prescribing an approach from both the theoretical and practical angles liable to mitigate, if not completely eliminate, some of the problems and difficulties.


  • This work was supported in part by part of a grant (R25TW01604) from the Fogarty International Center, National Institutes of Health, DHHS, for Bioethics Training for Developing Country Professionals/Researchers