In an age of global capitalism, pandemics, far-flung biobanks, multinational drug trials and telemedicine it is impossible for bioethicists to ignore the global dimensions of their field. However, if they are to do good work on the issues that globalisation requires of them, they need theoretical resources that are up to the task. This paper identifies four distinct understandings of ‘globalised’ in the bioethics literature: (1) a focus on global issues; (2) an attempt to develop a universal ethical theory that can transcend cultural differences; (3) an awareness of how bioethics itself has expanded, with new centres and journals emerging in nearly every corner of the globe; (4) a concern to avoid cultural imperialism in encounters with other societies. Each of these approaches to globalisation has some merit, as will be shown. The difficulty with them is that the standard theoretical tools on which they rely are not designed for cross-cultural ethical reflection. As a result, they leave important considerations hidden. A set of theoretical resources is proposed to deal with the moral puzzles of globalisation. Abandoning idealised moral theory, a normative framework is developed that is sensitive enough to account for differences without losing the broader context in which ethical issues arise. An empirically nourished, self-reflexive, socially inquisitive, politically critical and inclusive ethics allows bioethicists the flexibility they need to pick up on the morally relevant particulars of this situation here without losing sight of the broader cultural contexts in which it all takes place.
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Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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