An African analysis based on ethics of ubuntu

Are human embryonic stem cell patents morally justifiable?

  • Fikile M. Mnisi


The patent system is intended to create an incentive for the patent holder to ensure that the knowledge emanating from these patents is shared. However, the same system can be used to block or shut down research and possibly related clinical benefits that may help alleviate human suffering, by a refusal to allow certain kinds of technologies or their products to be patented such as human Embryonic Stem Cell (hESC) patents. Such a refusal could be detrimental to underdeveloped countries, especially within Africa. Du Toit explains how Africans view technology, namely that ‘in Africa, technology still has a human face’. As a result, technology must be integrated with people’s beliefs, customs, values, and social life. Moreover, it must be demonstrably able to improve lives significantly. For this to be possible the patent regime must be governed by democratic laws and moral principle(s) that will form laws and rules of law in human affairs. A more obvious principle in Africa is Ubuntu, an African philosophical notion which is not just a philosophy to Africans, but a way of life ‘[unique..] in its substance, methods and ethical worldview’v. Far from being merely a regional moral notion, Ubuntu may be applied as a global principle for bioethics by embracing its underlying values. Therefore, in this work, I discuss Ubuntu and its values- particularly that of harmony- and how it may be applied to the question of the morality of hESC patents.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1995-641X
print ISSN: 0256-2804