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Two questions for Dr Amal Matar

Updated: Oct 23

Dr Matar is a medical doctor and a bioethicist from Egypt. She is currently employed at the Center for Research Ethics and Bioethics at Uppsala University, Sweden, as part of the Human Brain Project. Her work involves research on International research ethics, ethics of reproductive technologies and genomics, and more recently empirical neuroethics.

You are a medical doctor. Why did you decide to pursue research in bioethics and neuroethics?

In many developing countries, one is always challenged with doing the “right” thing, particularly when corruption is rampant. The grey zone between right and wrong increases and morally right decisions become fuzzy. There tend to be more justifications and even an enabling environment to opt for the less ethical action. Furthermore, many medical practitioners, especially in developing countries, lack the time and know-how for self- reflection. They are usually overwhelmed with work, where it is not uncommon that many resort to working two and three jobs to maintain a decent living. This compounds the problem.

I believe learning about ethics and ethical reasoning helps to diminish the uncertainty involved in moral decisionmaking. The distinction between morally wrong and right actions becomes clearer and the shades of grey in between vanish. When I started reading about bioethics and medical ethics, I realized how our medical education is lacking in this area, even though we face ethical dilemmas on a daily basis. Though we all recite the Hippocratic Oath at graduation, it is difficult to apply these set principles to the more complex reality.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing multi-disciplinary work?

One big advantage of multi/interdisciplinary work is you learn how to look at your field with very different eyes. You learn to be more critical and what appears to be quite defined and objective is actually not. It is not uncommon that when I discuss a bioethical topic I understand better how philosophers and social scientists approach it. I can help concretise some of the more abstract notions so they are more relevant to actual practice or to what happens in the lab or the hospital. On the other hand, I can engage in and enjoy the thought process behind some of the conceptual discussions which do not necessarily provide a solution to an ethical problem but instead give clarity and alternative meanings that are not based on lab results or a group of symptoms and signs.

A major disadvantage is that sometimes there is a wide gap between the meanings or interpretations that the different disciplines provide. These usually result in conflicts and misunderstandings that even dialogue may not resolve. Another disadvantage is how the work is expected to be done. Academics with a background in the hard sciences prefer a well-structured and predefined method that is followed through to ensure validity and reliability. Those in the humanities have a more flexible approach; they understand that there is a spectrum of a phenomenon that is not necessarily easy to capture in a lab or with a rigid methodology.

I believe a multidisciplinary approach to a concept or a problem gives it more depth and captures a wholesome picture than a single discipline study.

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