Reconsidering solidarity in an African modified principlism

A K Fayemi


Principlism has attracted severe criticisms in contemporary bioethical scholarship. Scholars working in bioethics in the sub-Sahara have challenged the autonomy component of principlism, with strong emphasis on solidarity as a more fundamental principle that ought to guide bioethical discourses and practices in Africa and beyond. Focusing on Kevin Gary Behrens, who defends an indigenous Africaninspired version of principlism that incorporates salient African moral values including community, relationality, harmony and solidarity, this article questions the nebulous conception of solidarity in Behrens’ African modified principlism (AMP). AMP is anchored in the principles of respect for persons, beneficence, non-maleficence and harmony. Contra Behrens, I argue that the attempt to replace the American principlist model ‘with a new African-inspired principlist mantra’ can only succeed when there is a thorough analysis of the nature and boundaries of solidarity, which is currently lacking. Advancing on Thaddeus Metz’s construction of solidarity in his ‘Afro-bioethic of communion’, I defend a metaphoric normative conception of solidarity that represents historical symbols of the self and the other in a reflexive-care matrix of identification, recognition, inclusion and empathy. Beyond the partialist frame grounding the understanding of solidarity in African bioethical thought, which is inadequate, I offer a metaphoric, sympathetic and unbound space of solidarity. Suggested for future research is investigating the ranging implications of a metaphoric normative understanding of solidarity for dealing with vulnerable and non-vulnerable groups in the context of healthcare and environmental bioethics at the local, regional and global levels.

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A K Fayemi, Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos, Nigeria

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South African Journal of Bioethics and Law 2021;14(2):50-54. DOI:10.7196/SAJBL.2021.v14i2.00744

Article History

Date submitted: 2021-08-16
Date published: 2021-08-16

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