- From the Editor
In this issue ABR publishes a set of articles written by authors from nine former Soviet republics and now newly independent states. The idea to gather and prepare the set was advanced by the editor-in-chief, Prof. Leonardo de Castro and accepted with thanks by us, the guest editors of this current issue.
These countries became independent states about a quarter of a century ago, in December 1991, when the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), at that time one of the two superpowers, ceased to exist. It was broken into 15 independent states, which had had at least half (and for many of them, many centuries) of joint existence in the one country, sharing a common history. Now specialists from nine of them have accepted our invitation to become authors in this issue.
Around the same time as the Soviet Union was declining, at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, bioethics as a scientific discipline, a form of ethical reflection and discussion about medical practice, and a set of normative and regulative principles and rules, had started to make its first steps in the region as a whole. Each of these 15 newly independent countries had to face various challenges on its way to capacity-building with regard to problems of routine medical practice, biomedical research, and the development and use of new biomedical technologies. Every of them had to seek for its own way to understand, sometimes critically, by assimilation of foreign experiences and practices.
It is important to have in mind that the 15 new independent states were connected by rather strong ties—political, economic, social, cultural and personal—stemming from their common history. At the same time, however, there were deep differences between many of them: East European, South Caucasian or Central Asian, Christian and Muslim, with huge cultural varieties in understanding the nature of health and illness, serious distinctions in roles attributed to social cohesiveness, different levels of economic development, and many other divergences. So, starting from rather similar initial conditions and coping with many analogous problems, such as building bioethical capacities, bioethics education, development of mechanisms and means for normative regulation in biomedical practice and research, involvement of the public in discussions on the most acute bioethical problems, interactions with state authorities, politicians, journalists, religious leaders, each of the 15 new states had to seek its [End Page 423] own way into the land of bioethics. This issue of Asian Bioethics Review will show some of the most essential results of these searches.
In their undertaking, new states interacted, to a greater and lesser degree, with each other as well as with international and intergovernmental organisations such as UNESCO, WHO, Council of Europe, European Union, Commonwealth of Independent States and its Interparliamentary Assembly, as well as with nongovernmental groups such as WMA, CIOMS, etc. An especially important role in this extremely useful cooperation was played by the Fogarty International Center who supported, and continues to support, a number of intensive training programmes in research ethics for the education of a cadre of well-qualified specialists in countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
For many years, the essential role in the sharing of prospective ideas and good practices was played by the Forum of Ethics Committees of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). An important trait of the FECCIS activities was that its participants, in their practical interaction, used mainly the Russian language, which was the usual tool of communication between people from different Soviet republics. The FECCIS was established on 21 March 2001 and had defined as its main objective support of the development of bioethics in the region with an emphasis on the ethics of biomedical research involving human subjects. FECCIS activities has been directed to the elaboration of legislative and normative systems in the field of research ethics, working out and implementing educational programmes, developing informational spaces and creating a dialogue with interested parties participating in the review of biomedical research. [End Page 424]