We stand for integrity of science and practice in healthcare, research and allied thematics
The Forum for Medical Ethics Society (FMES) is an organisation focused on strengthening medical ethics in modern healthcare. It works to protect patients’ rights, facilitate the conduct of transparent and humane research, and enable medical practitioners to deliver rational, patient-friendly and compassionate care. The FMES was founded by a group of Mumbai-based medical practitioners in 1989 to create space for engaging with issues in medical ethics. Contributing to the development of critical mass of human capital in bioethics remains one of its goals. This goal includes developing curricula and implementing them in collaboration with other organisations and academic institutions for short-duration intensive training in subfields of bioethics. Over the last 26 years, FMES has expanded its engagement beyond medical ethics to the broader discipline of bioethics. It has established three platforms:
I. Health, Ethics and Law Institute for Training, Research and Advocacy (HEaL Institute) for FMES’ programmatic work (since 2018)
The FMES has established its platform the Health, Ethics and Law (HEaL Institute) for Training, Research and Advocacy to develop FMES’ programmatic work in bioethics, with a dedicated website of its own (www.fmesinstitute.org) in 2019. The HEaL Institute has been enabled and seeded by Tata Trusts via a grant from August 1, 2018 to July 31, 2019. This has helped establish FMES’ programmatic work more systematically and enable an identity independent of FMES’ two other established platforms, namely, IJME, and the National Bioethics Conferences.
The institute is committed to take up socially relevant research, critical policy and program analyses to inform advocacy work towards making a difference to peoples’ well-being. Its multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach enables it to critically engage with law, regulations, constitutional entitlements, and historical context of matters at hand.
As an organisation, HEaL Institute conceives of health in its widest and most comprehensive scope that includes safeguarding the health of the planet. With this broader conception of health, the goal is to work towards contributing to the well-being of people via research, advocacy, training and action. It also aims to serve as a bridge between academia and activism for promoting and safeguarding people’s democratic and constitutional entitlement to health, as an outcome of wide-ranging social – economic – political -environmental determinants. Its scope of work also encompasses ethics and human rights of health, health care delivery, health research, health policies and programs, and health economics.
II. the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics for exchanges between non-medical experts, philosophers and social scientists, medical providers, health researchers, paramedical personnel and advocacy groups. IJME, till date, is the only journal on bioethics and medical ethics published from India (since 1994).
IJME has completed its 29th year of continuous publication, though facing constant financial challenges. The journal is now considered a reliable source of healthcare ethics information and policy to be cited by journalists, policy makers, and even courts. Its content is used widely for ethics courses and its leading members are recognised ethicists active in ethics committees and courses on ethics. While the healthcare scene in the country is extremely challenging, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the journal has an important role in the debate on ethical problems and possible solutions. This brief report summarises the journal’s April 2019 to March 2020.
III. National Bioethics Conferences (NBCs) platform for engagement amongst the stakeholders in bioethics. So far, FMES in collaboration with other organisations including academic institutes have organised seven NBCs in different parts of India (since 2005).
Bioethics has been a dynamic discipline, facing serious challenges due to the slack regulatory environment in India and increasing commercialisation of healthcare. Hence, while publishing the journal continuously for over two decades, the need was felt for a more active and inclusive platform, where stakeholders could come together to deliberate, debate and share ideas on ethical issues relating to health, healthcare systems and health research. The result was the biennial National Bioethics Conference (NBC). Since 2005, the year during which we hosted the first ever National Bioethics Conference, we hosted eights NBCs. This collaborative platform has encouraged new thinking, generated discussion, and actively sought and received feedback from the community of those interested in ethical practice of healthcare FMES-IJME strives to publish materials presented at the NBCs after peer review, and to involve the participants in its work. These include participants from several countries including our neighbours Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. We had an opportunity to host a joint 7th NBC and 14th World Congress of Bioethics (WCB) in December 2018 in Bengaluru. The WCB platform was established by the International Association of Bioethics (IAB), an international network established in the early 1990s. The Main Congress was preceded by the 12th Feminist Approaches to Bioethics (FAB) Congress spread over two days, which deliberated upon feminist responses to global challenges in health and healthcare. There were eight Pre-Congress workshops/symposia on diverse topics.
The year 2020 has been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic presenting enormous challenges to global livelihoods, economies, governance and social order, besides putting a huge strain on healthcare capacity and delivery worldwide. It is also testing scientific integrity and ethics as never before.
The Indian subcontinent has been a hotspot for both the infection and its collateral damage, in the shape of multiple humanitarian tragedies. With the focus of the public health discourse being on testing, isolation, prevention, treatment and vaccination, several ethical issues have emerged. These have been addressed sporadically, but need to be addressed through organised discussion, debate, and prioritisation. The Forum for Medical Ethics Society (FMES) – and its two platforms – the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics (IJME) and the Health, Ethics and Law (HEaL Institute) realised that there is an urgent need to identify and emphasise ethical and humanitarian issues around the pandemic especially its impact on healthcare in South Asia, through multisectoral dialogues. This is essential as this pandemic is going to be with us for some time to come.
This year, the 8th National Bioethics Conference (NBC) was organised on the theme: Crisis within a crisis: The scientific, ethical & humanitarian challenge of COVID-19. Eighth NBC was a simple virtual event, conducted over four Saturdays starting from November 28, 2020 until December 19, 2020. It offered a platform for debate and consensus on the critical issues arising from this important theme.