The Finnish Institute of Bioethics was established in summer 2015 by young scholars in bioethics and biolaw.
Narrowing the gap between Finland and its neighboring countries
The gap in the academic and societal influence of bioethics, and related practice of law, is growing between Finland and neighboring countries. Sweden, Norway and Estonia all host active and multidisciplinary bioethics centers, and bioethics likely will become even more widely established in these countries. Following in footsteps of Finland’s neighbors, the Finnish Institute of Bioethics aims to advance bioethics as an academic discipline in Finland and to foster the societal awareness as to bioethical issues and inquiries. Active and multidisciplinary bioethics institutes—both in the United States and in Europe—have typically helped countries to take the crucial first steps toward establishing the field and raising public awareness. Following this global movement, the Finnish Institute of Bioethics aims at creating a religiously and politically independent, active and multidisciplinary forum for discussing and addressing bioethical topics.
As mentioned, bioethics as an academic discipline, with its educational programs and practical applications, is currently relatively absent in Finland. Even though bioethics research exists, being conducted under the umbrellas of many different disciplines, communication and collaboration between researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds has yet to find a sustainable and neutral common ground, not to mention the scarcity of communication channels between scholars and practical professionals—such as nurses, doctors and lawyers. Channels for incorporating patients and citizens into bioethical discussion and decision-making are also alarmingly scarce.
Understandably, the prevailing lack of collaboration between different groups, and the difficult if not nonexistent conditions for conducting research in this topic area, is detrimental for the developing a clearly sustainable ground for bioethical inquiry in Finland. For instance, in Finland it is currently practically impossible to conduct research under the discipline of “bioethics”: bioethical inquiry must instead be located under other disciplines, which easily forces bioethical viewpoints into a position of subsidiary knowledge. Furthermore, basic education in bioethics is virtually nonexistent, whereas for example in the United States numerous master’s programs, fellowships and other educational programs are available in bioethics. This current state of affairs is also mirrored on the academic relevance Finland holds in this field internationally—increasingly differing from Sweden, Norway and Estonia, Finnish bioethics scholars are still a relatively rare sight in academic bioethics centers and conferences around the world.
On top of the challenges described above, even more unfortunate is the poor public awareness as to bioethical topics prevailing outside the academic community. This is unfortunate, since low public awareness preconditions Finland as a society to disregard the many potential practical solutions advanced by bioethics for the addressing challenging ethical situations arising from the practice of life sciences.
The Finnish Institute of Bioethics therefore aims at creating comprehensive structures that cut through the academic world as well as the society at large for raising the influence and level of public awareness in bioethics in Finland. In pursuing this goal, the Finnish Institute of Bioethics aspires to foster value pluralism and social inclusivity as its main principles; in other words, the Finnish Institute of Bioethics seeks to create an inclusive forum for interaction regarding bioethical topics, one which expands from academia to practice, such as to health care and legislation—while not overlooking the perspectives of patients, research subjects and ordinary citizens.
The Finnish Institute of Bioethics is a politically and religiously independent non-profit organization aimed at creating a neutral ground for bioethical discourse across political, disciplinary and societal borders. In other words, the most central goal of the Finnish Institute of Bioethics is to further the establishment of bioethics into Finnish academic and political life. Being independent, the institute is not a part of any university but rather collaborates with university projects. Moreover, it is important to emphasize the fact that the institute does not aspire to replace the influence or importance of any existing organizations or communities, but rather to enrich interaction within the web of structures already existing in Finland. At the same time, the Finnish Institute of Bioethics aspires to create networks for collaboration between Finland and its neighboring countries, as well as to sustain close ties between Finland and other countries beyond this, especially with the birth place of bioethics, the United States. For instance, the staff of the institute have close ties with the Center for Bioethics at the Harvard Medical School as well as with the Hastings Center.
We believe it is critical and timely for Finland to follow in the footsteps of many other Western countries in establishing democratic channels for ethical and moral deliberation as well as decision-making in life sciences, especially in health care, and in society at large.