Ethics, culture and relativism:
Some reflections on teaching medical ethics in contemporary Sri Lanka

By S. N. Arseculeratne, R. Simpson,

P. D. Premasiri, P. V. R. Kumarasiri

Continued from yesterday


SNA thanks the National Science Foundation, Sri Lanka, for a research grant, and RS thanks the Wellcome Trust UK, for financial support.


1. This paper is the first of a pair of papers dealing with questions of relativism and cultural context.

2. The Tower of Babel described in Genesis 11 : 1-10 of the Bible was intended to reach from earth to Heaven but its construction was prevented when God introduced different languages to those who were building the tower. Therefore is the name of it called Babel because there did the Lord confound the language of all the earth and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of the earth?.

3. The Buddhist King Buddhadasa who lived in the fourth century in Sri Lanka, is credited in the Pali chronicle literature with the administering of a cure through surgery and medication, on the abscess suffered by a snake. (Culavamsa Chapter 37, vv. 112 - 121)

4. It is important to note that, in ancient times, responsibility for health and well-being was made explicit in Buddhist notions of a just political order. It is the duty of the ideal universal monarch, the Chakkavatti ruler to provide watch, ward and protection to humans as well as to birds and beasts (Chakkavattisinanada Sutta, Diganikaya). The Buddhist emperor Asoka of India adopted this as a policy in his state as indicated in his rock edicts. Asoka’s edicts say that everywhere in the lands conquered by Asoka "Two systems of cure, cure for men and cure for brutes" were instituted and herbs useful for men and brutes were planted (Piyadasi Inscriptions, Kalsi Edict II, edited and published by Ranavatara Sarma, Muradpur Patna 1915).


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The results/data from this survey were published as a second paper in Biomedical Law & Ethics, 2008, 2(2): 211 – 237. Centres of ethical gravity: A comparison of responses to contemporary biomedical dilemmas among young people in Sri Lanka and England. P. V. R. Kumarasiri, S. N. Arseculeratne, P. D. Premasiri, B. Simpson.

Twenty questions covered:- Terminal illness, Termination of pregnancy, Euthanasia and assisted suicide, Animal welfare, New reproductive technologies, Infertility treatments and assisted reproduction, Doctors and their patients, Attitudes towards drugs and medicine, Organ transplantation.


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