Solidarity in Bioethics

Abstract

The concept of solidarity is frequently cited in discussions about distributive justice and what we owe to other people. In addition, solidarity is increasingly the focus of debates in bioethical theory and practice, where it is treated as a concept of fundamental importance, for example in public and global health contexts. Despite the attention that solidarity increasingly receives, however, an exact definition of the term and its role in bioethics remains elusive. Solidarity is understood as a commitment to accept costs to support others with whom people recognise relevant similarities, a definition that we consider particularly fruitful in using solidarity as a guiding principle for policy and practice.

Key Concepts

  • Solidarity has recently been gaining more prominence in bioethical, public health and global health debates.
  • The history of solidarity is patterned. Throughout its history, the concept has been imbued with different meanings, with the common denominator being that solidarity is a prosocial notion.
  • The authors define solidarity is as a (shared) commitment to accept ‘costs’ (in the wide sense of the word) to support others with whom people recognise relevant similarities.
  • Defined in this manner, solidarity can be clearly distinguished from related concepts such as altruism or charity.
  • The threat posed by global climate change demonstrates the importance of a solidaristic response by the governments and citizens of all countries.
  • The risks of climate change also provide the catalyst for cooperative action by highlighting an important similarity that exists between all persons – common vulnerability to serious harm.
  • In the context of bioethical policy and practice, solidarity has the potential to ground just, effective public policy and can motivate individuals and governments to participate in programmes intended to alleviate common threats.

Keywords: bioethics; solidarity; public health; climate change; global health; pandemic disease; public policy

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Further Reading

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Moellendorf D (2009) Justice and the intergenerational assignment of the costs of climate change. Journal of Social Philosophy 40: 204–224.

Renaud H (1842) Solidarité. Paris: Librairie de l'École sociétaire.

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West‐Oram, Peter GN, Buyx, Alena, and Prainsack, Barbara(Dec 2016) Solidarity in Bioethics. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0027021]