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Research project on Biomedical Culture and Ethics in German-Israelic Comparison

ongoing, multilevel project; since 2007:

2010-2012 (funden by the German-Israeli-Foundation)
2009 (funded by the NMWK)
2008 (funded by the BMBF; German-Israeli Year of Science and Technology
2007-2008 (funded by the German-Israeli Foundation)

Contact persons: Prof. Dr. Silke Schicktanz, Dr. Julia Inthorn

Cross-Cultural Ethics of Health and Responsibility: Expert and lay perspectives regarding bioethical dilemmas in Germany and Israel, funded by the GiF

PI: Prof. Dr. Silke Schicktanz: January 2010 -  December 2012


This study extends the comparative analysis of expert discourse in Germany and Israel by exploring the 'public moralities' of lay and affected people regarding responsibility in the context of end-of-life (EoL) decisions and genetic testing (GT) of adults. In addition to analysis of comparative guidelines and interviews with bioethical experts, the methodology focuses on focus group interviews with lay persons divided according to affected, religious, and national categories. We propose to extend the study of cross-cultural bioethics in the context of emerging themes of responsibility, such as self-responsibility, responsibility for kin, and the responsibility of society. Within these themes of responsibility we expect to locate related moral contentions such as the duty to know and the right not to know one's genetic dispositions (in the context of GT), or the sanctity of life versus self-determination (in the context of EoL), to be further compared within the context of cultural factors such as religion, history, utopian and dystopian views of biomedical technologies, outlooks on the body and on health/illness, consumerism, and individualism/collectivism. By integrating theoretical bioethics and empirical social research we intend to fill the gap between expert deliberation and lay attitudes while combining the researchers' complementary fields of expertise.

Co-operation partner:
Prof. Dr. Aviad Raz, Ben Gurion University Israel


Information on participation in the study can be found here:

International symposium "Genetics as Culture in a Consumerist Age"

Date and Venue:

October 27 – 29, 2011

Hotel Grauer Bär, Innsbruck,

Universitätsstraße 5

Innsbruck, Austria

programme now available online at:

Organized by:

Gabriele Werner-Felmayer (Division of Biological Chemistry, Biocenter, and Bioethics Network Ethucation, Medical University of Innsbruck, AT)

Silke Schicktanz (Culture and Ethics of Biomedicine, University Medical Center, University of Göttingen, DE)

Barbara Prainsack (Dep. of Sociology and Communications, Brunel University London, GB)

In cooperation with:

Josef Quitterer (Department of Philosophy, Theological Faculty, University of

Innsbruck, AT)

Siegfried Walch (International Health Care Management, Management Center Innsbruck, AT)

Obtaining individual health- related genomic information is no longer restricted to the clinical realm. Genome-wide analyses to identify genetic predispositions for a range of conditions, including rare diseases as well as common, multi-factorial diseases like cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, can be purchased online. Similarly, tests for genetic ancestry, paternity, or ‘recreational traits’ such as athletic propensities, can be obtained direct-to-consumer (DTC) from commercial companies. Social networking tools are used by individuals not only to share their individual genetic profiles, but also to actively participate in disease research, thereby complicating some of the core categories that the organisation of disease research and health care rests upon: experts and lay persons, gate-keepers and specialists, and knowledge producers and knowledge recipients/consumers.
The ethical and legal debate about such developments has just started. This symposium with over 20 speakers from Europe and North-America will comprise contributions exploring the mutual relationship between genetics, markets and societies in this field. It aims to obtain insights into the current interdisciplinary debate on whether and how socio-cultural factors influence attitudes towards the usage of, and the belief in, genetics2.0. Furthermore, its contributors seek to explore how individual and collective identities are challenged by cultural meanings of genetics.

further information and registration:

Bodies in Culture - Bioethical aspects of biomedicine and its socio-cultural contexts

German-Israeli-Foundation Young Scientist Programme (January 2007 - March 2008). Funded by the GiF


Overall, in most countries, not only the opportunities but also the risks and ethical problems of biomedicine raise academic and public awareness. Against this background, bioethics is defined as an academic investigation of ethical arguments and social concerns about life science research and medical practice. Bioethical discussions are often characterized by plurality and dissent. Recently there have been two interesting, rather antagonistic movements in bioethics: The one is oriented at the idea of an international, universally valid bioethics while the other one refers to bioethics as a cultural phenomenon which can only be understood in a close cultural context and is rather particularistic.

My general research interests are located at the intersection of this dispute. I am interested in the following two basic questions: A) How is the form and content of bioethics as a socio-political and academic practice influenced by culture, and B) How can we find a cross-cultural and inter-cultural ethical basis in a more and more globalized world?

On the basis of an intensive literature research and 14 interviews with Israeli experts the following issue was investigated:  What kind of moral differences and similarities do we find in the expert debate and in the public discourse with respect to the human body and human existence in limited situations such as the beginning and the end of human life?

Hereby, three essential lines for the analysis were followed:

  1. Structure of public ethics discourse and role of experts
  2. Ethical discourse on decisions related to the beginning of human life
  3. Ethical discourse on decisions related to the end of human life

For further results see:

Raz A. & Schicktanz S. (2009): Diversity and Uniformity in Genetic Responsibility: Moral Attitudes of Patients, Relatives and Lay People in Germany and Israel, Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 13(4), 363-369.

Raz A. & Schicktanz S. (2009) Lay Perceptions of Genetic Testing in Germany and Israel: The Interplay of National Culture and Individual Experience, New Genetics and Society 28, 4, 401-414.

Schicktanz S., Raz A. and Shalev C. (2010): Cultural impacts on end of life ethics. A cross-comparative study between Germany and Israel, Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 19, 3, 381-394.

Workshop "Genetics and Society: Practices/Positions, Expert/Public Discourses"

December 14th- 16th 2008 Ben Gurion University, The Negev, Israel, organised by Prof. Dr. Silke Schicktanz and Prof. Dr. Aviad Raz. The workshop was kindly supported by:

The workshop focused on an important issue at the intersection between social sciences/ethics on the one hand, and life sciences on the other hand. The recent developments in medical genetics and genetic testing induce fast dynamics in the recent legal and ethical debates. Thus, we concentrate on the following bioethical topics:

A) The impact of genetic knowledge on communities and individuals
B) The impact of genetic knowledge on the conceptualisation of responsibility
C) The relationship of expert discourse and public understanding of genetics.

As speakers well-known senior experts and young scientists with relevant research experience from Germany and Israel were invited from the different fields: bioethics, philosophy, legal studies, social science, history of science, and genetics.

See also , Newsletter March 10, 2009.


"The Influence of Culture and Religion on Biomedical Science. A German-Israeli Dialogue on the Medical Possibilities on the Edges of Life"

The conference was held from 29th to 30th of November 2007 in Berlin. Invited keynote lecturers from Israel: Prof. Dr. A. Steinberg, Dr. C. Shalev and Prof. Dr. A. Raz; from Germany: Prof. Dr. C. Wiesemann, Dr. I. Sake, Prof. Dr. R. Anselm. The workshop was supported by own financial contributions and in personal and financial cooperation with the Protestant Academy of Berlin. A workshop documentation including summaries of the presentation and main parts of the discussions (in English/German) is edited by Simone Ehm and Silke Schicktanz and published by the Evangelischer Pressedienst, Frankfurt.


FREE Download of the  workshop report including talks and discussion:

Program Biomedicine (PDF)

Documentation Culture and Biomedicine (PDF)

(Julia Inthorn, Silke Schicktanz)