Conference Report: ESPMH, Zagreb

Guest post by Nathan Emmerich.

This year the annual conference of the European Society for the Philosophy of Medicine and Healthcare (ESMPH) was held in the Andrija Stampar School of Public Health, University of Zagreb. Participants came from across Europe for the four day event which was focussed on Human Nature. Many of the presenters addressed this topic directly and did so from a wide variety of perspectives.

As ever, the difficulty with big conferences is with timetabling; with four ‘panel streams’ going on at any one time, it was impossible to get to all the papers which caught my interest.  For my own part the presentations deserving of special mention were Hager Weinberger’s talk (co-authored with Dr Barilan) concerning medical ethics education.  Coming from a broadly psychological or cognitive perspective on student learning her contribution was towards an understanding of that relatively neglected aspect of bioethics’ activity which in fact occupies much of our time: teaching.  Elsewhere, Nancy King made some very interesting points about enhancement whilst avoiding the more exuberant claims that can dominate the topic; Darryl Gunson’s discussion of Critical Theory, particularly that of Habermas, succeeded in bringing clarity to a difficult subject; Fredrick Svenaeus spoke convincingly on the subject of philosophical phenomenology of organ transplantation as part of a panel on organs and the body more generally.  Elsewhere in the programme the winner of the ESPMH’s Young Scholar Essay prize discussed his use of ‘Anti-Theory’ in regards pandemic flu planning but, for reasons of modesty, I shall have to leave any further comment on this issue to others more qualified to pass objective judgement.

Keynote addresses, judging from the subsequent discussions between participants over coffee so excellent we really had no right to expect it, succeed in provoking discussion and debate.  Of particular interest (in my view at least) was Søren’s lecture, which considered (or, as he had it, excavated) the underlying “anthropologies” implied, but largely ignored, by several of the current approaches to bioethical analysis.  Taking the concept of an “anthropology” to mean much the same as what we might understand Kant to meant, he proceeded to dig up a number of perspectives which have a near invisible structuring function within bioethics and perhaps ethics more generally.

The non-academic aspects of the conference were excellent – not just the aforementioned coffee (Will next year’s ESPMH in Zürich match it?), but also the lunches, with the rooftop patio on hand for a quick relax in the shade before returning to the intellectual fray.

Any readers want to share their feedback?

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