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The IAB is excited to announce that the 17th World Congress of Bioethics (WCB) will be held at the Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE) in Doha, Qatar in 2024. CILE will partner with the World Innovative Summit for Health (WISH). The 2024 Congress represents a number of firsts for the IAB: it is the first time that the Congress will be hosted in the Middle East, the Gulf region, and an Arab country. This Congress affords a unique opportunity for the IAB to expand its reach to new regions of the world and to engage with more diverse audiences. IAB welcomes the opportunity to build bridges across cultures, foster mutual learning among bioethicists from around the world, and in the process, fulfill its mission to be an international Association.
The IAB understands that with these exciting opportunities come challenges. IAB’s experience hosting past Congresses has shown that each Congress site presents its own set of issues and concerns related to factors such as regime, culture, human rights, respect for minorities, freedom of expression, and many other issues. Both the IAB Board of Directors and the directors of the Feminist Approaches to Bioethics Network (FAB) are aware of questions and concerns that some of their members have raised regarding the choice of Qatar to host the 2024 WCB. This Q&A addresses these questions and concerns by providing background and context for the IAB selection of Qatar, as well as links to additional information.
The IAB is dedicated to promoting networking and the exchange of ideas worldwide. It encourages the discussion of cross-cultural aspects of bioethics and aspires to support bioethicists working in all regions of the world. Hosting the WCB in any region brings unique cultural, religious, ethical, and other challenges that offer an opportunity to inform the global bioethics community about what is happening locally and serve as a bridge to engaging with local issues globally in a more meaningful manner. Engaging with bioethicists in their local contexts facilitates mutual learning and offers a unique opportunity to better understand the grounded experience of doing bioethics in different settings. It is one thing to read abstract descriptions of a region’s distinctive context from afar; it is quite another to immerse ourselves – even briefly –in local perspectives and to discuss challenges with local hosts.
Cultural diversity, which includes religious diversity, will be a central theme for the 2024 WCB. Hosting the Congress in the Arab world offers a remarkable opportunity to explore this theme from the perspective of multiple traditions, reflect on ways to make bioethics more culturally inclusive, and showcase the international character of our field. It also affords an opportunity to continue to learn how to engage respectfully, as researchers and scholars, will all cultures and moral traditions.
Cultural diversity also encompasses the economic diversity of Congress participants. The Qatar hosts are committed to removing as many financial barriers as possible for researchers with accepted abstracts who face challenges in funding their travel to the WCB. A substantial number of travel bursaries will be available for bioethicists from low-income regions where talented researchers may not be able to access funding from home institutions.
The process for selecting a host for the WCB begins with the IAB Board of Directors issuing an open call for bids. After considering all submitted bids, the Board chooses the group that best aligns with the IAB’s commitments and mission, and that is able to take on the considerable financial and organizational burdens associated with hosting a large international meeting. The IAB Board is solely responsible for the choice of Congress host.
Beginning with the 2026 WCB, FAB will be invited to participate in discussions leading up to the IAB’s selection of WCB hosts, including an opportunity to represent the perspectives and expertise of its membership. There is an established and ongoing commitment to engage FAB as a full participant in reviewing and selecting abstracts for presentation at the WCB.
The IAB Board of Directors is committed to holding the WCB in varied regions of the world. To date, IAB has never held the Congress in the Arab world, nor a Muslim country; doing so aligns with the Association’s founding vision of becoming a truly international Association. Underlying our commitment is the idea that mutual learning is possible between diverse peoples and engaging in this way strengthens the field of bioethics.
In addition to the above considerations for site selection, the IAB Board of Directors considered the fact that we continue to operate within the context of a global pandemic, which creates ongoing challenges. While the IAB has been attempting to alternate hosting of the WCB between high- and low/middle-income countries, 2024 represents the third time in a row that the Congress will be hosted in a high-income country. This reflects the fact that pandemic-related economic uncertainties discouraged some potential hosts in low- and middle-income countries from stepping forward to host in 2024. The IAB Board is working hard to enable the hosting of the 2026 Congress in a low-resource region of the Global South and in particular, partnering with potential hosts in sub-Saharan Africa to accomplish this.
The IAB Board of Directors is concerned about human rights violations anywhere they occur and regards respect for human rights as a core aspect of the work of bioethics. Past Congresses have been successfully hosted in countries where questions about human rights violations and the treatment of minorities exist. Rather than avoiding regions of the world where human rights abuses or maltreatment of minorities are reported to occur, the IAB sees its mission as expanding bioethics dialogue, particularly in regions where traditions of open conversations about bioethical issues are not widespread nor consolidated.
The IAB Board distinguishes between the host country and the host institution. The IAB Board does not hold the host institution in any location responsible for policies, laws, regulations, norms of clinical practice, or social norms in its country.
When the IAB selects a Congress host, this decision does not reflect IAB support for the country or its government or regime, nor does it express endorsement of that country’s track record regarding respect for human rights or treatment of minorities and disempowered or marginalized populations, including women and girls, LGBTQIA+ people, Indigenous peoples, migrant workers, or others.
IAB asks every host institution to furnish a Congress venue that respects international norms of human rights, respect diversity and inclusion, and respect for academic freedom of expression. We also ask hosts to furnish a hybrid format that is accessible to people who are not on-site at the Congress location.
The Qatar hosts are committed to a venue that fosters the free exchange of ideas and respect for diverse points of view. The Qatar hosts wish to emphasize that their long-term experience hosting academic activities has been positive, with participants able to book hotel rooms without facing obstacles related to sexual orientation, marital status, or any other aspect of their personal status.
Participants who choose to use the opportunity of attending a Congress to tour Qatar or the Gulf region are solely responsible for their own health and safety. The IAB recommends heeding local cultural norms related to dress code, food, interpersonal relationships, etc., as they would as visitors in any other country.
Here again, when the IAB selects a Congress host, this decision does not reflect IAB support for the country or its government or regime, nor does it express endorsement of that country’s environmental policies or track record. The IAB Board of Directors also does not hold the host institution accountable for the environmental policies of its government, or their impact on environmental justice. Instead, the local host's responsibility pertains to the Congress's environmental impact. Specifically, local hosts are expected to make sustainable choices to the fullest extent possible. As stated above, the IAB Board requires host institutions to offer hybrid participation options, which include the possibility of full virtual participation to reduce the need for travel and promote equitable access.
Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE) in Doha is committed to respecting and protecting academic freedom within the WCB. Besides the explicit commitment provided by the host institution, CILE has a strong track record, with researchers from around the world coming to Qatar to participate in academic events.
Freedom of expression will also be guaranteed via the process of review of abstracts. Both the IAB Board of Directors and FAB leadership will review abstract submissions and participate in selecting final Congress presenters. In addition, a diverse panel of reviewers will contribute to peer-review and evaluate submissions on the basis of academic excellence and promotion of diversity. The IAB Board works with hosts to constitute an international Scientific Advisory Committee to assist the host institution with the design of the WCB program.
As noted, the 2024 WCB will offer hybrid access to mitigate issues related to visas, financial barriers, disability, or other reasons for preferring virtual participation. In addition, travel bursaries will be offered to help people facing financial barriers to in-person participation. Every effort will be made to accommodate participants with disabilities.
Yes. The FAB is working on identifying local partners to assist in the organization of the FAB Congress and will be providing links to connect its members with local partners. FAB will host its 2024 congress in conjunction with the 2024 WCB, in keeping with its longstanding tradition.
Submissions on all topics are welcome and representatives of IAB and FAB will seek to include a diverse range of topics that reflect the concerns of the membership. We invite members to submit abstracts on topics that explicitly concern them, including the treatment of migrant workers, the rights of women, LGBTQIA+ issues, environmental justice, and others. In addition, audience members in these sessions will be free to engage with the speakers without restrictions, provided questions are reasonably related to the presentations.