UNESCO Chair in Bioethics

The 13th World Conference of Bioethics, Medical Ethics and Health Law, organized by the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics Haifa, took place between 27-29 November in the city of Jerusalem.


IFMSA was one of the organizations that officially endorsed the conference and have been doing so since 2014, among some of our partners such as the World Medical Association and the World Federation for Medical Education.


Background on the Chair

The UNESCO Chair in Bioethics Haifa was established by UNESCO in 2001, with the purpose to build, activate, co-ordinate and stimulate an International Network of Units in Academic Institutions for Ethics Education. Today, the Chair comprises of more than 218 Units in over 77 countries, across all of the 5 continents of the world.


The Chair, apart from organizing the World Conference, also operates a multitude of activities, such as (among others) an International Teacher’s Forum, the World Bioethics Day (every October 19th), a Doctoral Program on Bioethics, publishes books and creates curricula for the teaching of ethics among children and youth. The Chair also organizes local, national and international seminars and courses.


One such international course takes place online at no registration cost and the Chair has invited any IFMSA NMOs who are interested in participating or sharing the course with their members to work with its Education Department, currently run by Professor Russel D’Souza. Should your NMO be interested, please send an email to the IFMSA LME, Katerina Dima at [email protected] to connect you with the Education Department.


IFMSA at the Conference

During the conference itself, IFMSA was invited to greet the participants during the Opening Ceremony, together with the Chair’s Leadership and other esteemed speakers. Moreover, we also had the opportunity to present our Attacks on Medical Education report during the conference sessions and spread awareness on the effects of conflict on medical education among students and academia. IFMSA was also invited to participate in the closed meeting of all Unit Heads on November 26th, offering valuable insight on the modus operandi of the Chair.

During the opening session, the keynote speaker Prof. Jonathan Halevy – Director at the Sha’are Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, delivered a compelling speech on his often-conflicting role as a hospital director who is also a physician: patient needs and hospital resources may not always coincide; and what percentage of a hospital’s net resources is the justified amount to spend on one patient? These questions were posed to attendees, to reflect and consider all the different scenarios. For many medical students, these questions might represent very realistic future dilemmas.


The conference sessions touched upon many fascinating and crucial topics, sparking long discussions and many disagreements among the attendees: death and dying, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, informed consent, the ethics of research, human rights, ethics and immigration, reproductive rights and antenatal care, or the ethics of mental health care, among others. As with all great dilemmas, a consensus is almost impossible to be reached – and we don’t know if it ever will. One thing that everyone agreed on, however, was the importance of introducing those dilemmas and those topics from multiple perspectives in the health workforce education. Bioethical training is necessary in the medical curriculum, not only to prepare us for future practice, but also to offer an opportunity to reflect on our own views, and our own potential bias.  


Touching on that point, the Chair recently developed and published a core curriculum for the teaching of Bioethics in Medicine, freely available here. We invite all medical students and medical schools who wish to incorporate these topics to use the resources provided, both in non-formal and formal education.


The 13th World Conference was truly a learning and thought-provoking experience – and we are very much looking forward to the 14th World Conference, which is to take place in Porto, Portugal between 12-14 May, 2020. See you there!


As always, should you require any further information or have any questions, feel free to send an email to the IFMSA LME at [email protected]


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