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Rethinking Social Solidarity in a Global Context: Bioethics and Human Rights

A Lecture by Dr. Henk ten Have

Dr. Henk ten Have

      On Tuesday March 21, world-renowned bioethicist and international scholar Dr. Henk ten Have gave a lecture to students, faculty, and the LMU community on social solidarity, vulnerability, human rights, and the future of bioethics. The lecture highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic illuminated healthcare disparities, in addition to exacerbating economic and social inequalities across the globe. Dr. ten Have examined the concept of vulnerability and argued that the established understanding of vulnerability in mainstream bioethics as a lack of autonomy ignores the universal character of vulnerability and over-emphasizes the individual nature of ethics and responsibility to the detriment of collective well-being. To move beyond this contemporary paradigm, Dr. ten Have asserted that vulnerability presents an opportunity for solidarity and recognition of the intrinsic dignity of all human beings secured through human rights. Following the lecture, Dr. ten Have, joined by Professor Roberto Dell'Oro, answered questions from the audience followed by a reception with further conversation.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Albrecht Durer

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Albrecht Durer (1498)

      To begin the lecture, Dr. ten Have discussed the biblical concept of apocalypse and how the four horsemen mirror many of the maladies plaguing the world today. To be clear, Dr. ten Have was not stating that the apocalypse is imminent but rather calling attention to the parallels between apocalyptic themes in literature, art, and music and the complex and interwoven inequities in modern global society. Specifically, the concept of apocalypse as a "revealing" rather than as destruction seems fitting for the COVID-19 pandemic, as it brought into the spotlight overlapping structures of harm, including sickness, war, famine, and poverty. 

Dr. Henk ten Have and Dr. Rboerto Dell'Oro speaking

Dr. Roberto Dell'Oro (left) and Dr. Henk ten Have (right) answer audience questions

      Above all else, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed our vulnerability as human beings. According to Dr. ten Have, vulnerability is a complex and multilayered concept, present at every level of organization from the individual to institutions to global society at large. Vulnerability is inherent to our human condition and was clearly seen during the pandemic, with individuals succumbing to illness, economic systems disrupted, and international relationships pressured. While we may think that we are immune from vulnerability, it is an inescapable fact of life. That being said, Dr. ten Have does not believe vulnerability is a weakness, as modern bioethics posits. Instead, vulnerability is a unifying aspect of human existence that carries normative weight. 

     Dr. ten Have explained that there are two distinct forms of vulnerability: general vulnerability and special vulnerability. General vulnerability describes the fragility of human existence and is characteristic of all humans while special vulnerability exists due to structures of oppression and inequality. Recognizing the shared vulnerability we possess calls us to empower and advocate for those who are especially vulnerable in society. 

Dr. Henk ten Have with Dr. Roberto Dell'Oro and Dr. Gianna McMillan

From left to right: Dr. Roberto Dell'Oro, Dr. Henk ten Have, and Dr. Gianna McMillan

      For Dr. ten Have, the normative call of vulnerability ushers in the concept of solidarity. Solidarity, according to Dr. ten Have, involves caring for and providing support to those who need it, whatever our personal desires may be. Thus, solidarity is rooted in the intrinsic value of the human person, going beyond any narrow instrumental view of humanity. Dr. ten Have also states that solidarity does not have to come into conflict with autonomy, that recognizing the humanity in the other and our shared condition generates a communal responsibility that supersedes our individual rights, duties, and obligations. From this recognition, Dr. ten Have explained the importance of human rights as an effective means of ensuring and protecting the dignity of all human beings. Dr. Henk ten Have's lecture was both informative and provocative, calling us to strive for a more equitable world and to more seriously consider how we view vulnerability in  global context.

To read more about Dr. Henk ten Have on his website, click here

Learn more about Dr. ten Have's books and publications here.

Dr. Henk ten Have signing a book
Loyola Marymount University Bioethics Institute Logo

Dr. Hank ten Have signs a book for Desirae Gordon. Also in photo Dr. Anna Harrison and Dr. Dylan Manson

LMU Bioethics Institute Logo thinking man sitting on microscope
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