Protocols versus realities: the dynamics of biomedical ethics in early twentieth century Southeast Asia


Single Panel


Session 1
Tue 09:30-11:00 REC A1.04



Save This Event

Add to Calendar


Show Paper Abstracts


One of the crucial changes that the field of medical history has gone through in recent decades, is its move away from a Eurocentric or western focus. Although most of the early medical histories of former colonies, such as the countries of Southeast Asia, were limited by a colonial perspective – that saw medicine merely as a “tool of empire” and disregarded local practices –, more recent historians have emphasized the plural character of the medical markets and healthcare systems in these countries. This plurality of people and practices that was present in these countries, resulted in a uniquely dynamic medical atmosphere of which ethics were an integral part.
Many developments merged in late colonial or postcolonial states. Ethical protocols that were drawn up in western countries were transferred to those working in the colonies. There, they collided with local religious beliefs, cultural practices, and ethics – and at times, met with resistance amongst locals. Moreover, many historians have pointed out the racial bias in (medical) ethics that could lead to different treatments and researches in colonial settings; some even describe colonies as “laboratories”. It thus appears that concepts such as informed consent are very dynamic and can be employed in ambiguous ways. Such tensions in the early twentieth century have continuities and similarities in recent crises such as the vaccine disinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. This panel probes into the historical aspects of such dynamics of biomedical ethics in early twentieth century. How was informed consent understood in Southeast Asia at this time by both colonial and local health workers? What meaning did protocols have in a colonial setting? What were the effects of these medical-ethical dynamics? This panel will attempt to provide initial answers to this question by illustrating different case studies on aspects including vaccinations, gender, medical education, and maternal health.