Frontlines Bioethics: War, Disease, Politics and the Impact on Humanity 

This presentation examines the role of bioethics in the face of the harrowing realities of war
and the prevalence of diseases that often accompany it. It confronts ethics with the role war
plays in politics by looking at the effects of war on the body politic as well as on the moral
and physical health of those who engage war or are its victims. We investigate the moral
entanglements of political decisions that lead to war and the subsequent outbreaks of disease,
scrutinizing the paradoxical role of such conflicts in shaping health-related research,
healthcare, and our fundamental ethical principles as well as our practices as bioethicists. The
course provides an analytical perspective on how war and disease challenge the core
principles of bioethics, on the meaning of autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and
justice when confronted with a disregard for humanity, and why today there is a need to re-
evaluate our ethical principles and our practices in bioethics when confronted with their
failures in war and disease. By studying case studies in political decision-making regarding
war and related disease outbreaks, the participants will gain insights into the struggle for
ethical medical practice in the midst of political failure and conflict, understanding the
complex political and moral dynamics that lead to the failure of health in such settings, and
grappling with the profound ethical questions posed by war-induced diseases. The goal is to
equip students with a nuanced comprehension of the demands placed on bioethics in the face
of war and disease, fostering critical thinking and ethical resilience. The presentation takes an
historical look at war as determinative for the shapes and structures of our societies,
particularly regarding the failure of health and healthcare. At the same time, it explores how
power is accompanied by often deceptive underpinnings that lead to warfare. It examines
how political systems, ostensibly designed to maintain order and serve the public good, can
become entangled in power struggles, leading to conflicts that betray their foundational
principles and whose origins and results are often expressed in terms of disease and health
failures. The talk highlights historical and contemporary examples where political failures
have precipitated wars under the guise of ideological, religious, historical, cultural, or
national interests. These are the same failures that are present in disease, and often the two
are intimately related. At the same time, war is always a limited enterprise that exhausts itself
and betrays the falsities and insincerities of those who promoted it, those who commanded it,
and those driven by ulterior motives and insincere justifications. The presentation critically
analyses the impact of these dynamics of deception and deceit on societies, communities, and
individuals in their struggles for identity and authenticity. It discusses the roles scientific and
health organizations have played in either justifying or speaking out against warfare when it
exacerbates major disease outbreaks. The overarching themes highlight how war often creates
the perfect conditions for infectious diseases to thrive, while also severely testing bioethical
norms in the name of national security versus humanitarianism. The talk illuminates this
complex interplay to promote a deeper understanding of how war, disease epidemics, and
ethical considerations around health and scientific research have been intertwined throughout
history and in the present day. The presentation aims to foster a deeper understanding of the
complexities and contradictions inherent in the relationship between politics, war, and human
suffering through disease; between society, politics, and healthcare; between war and our
desire for the good life.

Francis P. Crawley, Executive Director, Good Clinical Practice Alliance – Europe (GCPA) &
Strategic Initiative for Developing Capacity in Ethical Review (SIDCER)