Date of Award

Spring 2012

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Dan Lloyd

Second Advisor

Maurice Wade


Much of the international effort to prevent and treat HIV involves testing products and techniques on members of highly-infected populations in places such as sub-Saharan Africa. All of the ethical principles guiding and structuring this research are rooted in prominent Western ethical systems, and most research projects are conducted by Western or Westernized institutions. In a global culture that tends to reject ethical cultural relativism, the international community regularly touts these Western ideals as universally acceptable and applicable, often coming dangerously close to paternalism. While institutions and researchers are fundamentally well-intentioned, often the study set-up and procedures conflict with the values and ideals local to the area on some level. To illuminate the difficulties and complexities of modern, global, bioethical guidelines and research practices, this thesis analyzes two related HIV-prevention case studies from both traditional, Western and local, non-Western perspectives. It reveals the difficulties and strengths of both Kantian ethics and John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism before moving on to develop an ethic based upon the concept of ubuntu found in the region of Africa where the two studies take place. From these discussions arises the possibility for a universal ethic rooted in the common valuation of humanity that transcends all cultural differences and is common to all cultures and societies. This universal commonality opens up a much-needed space for discourse on global bioethics across cultural boundaries, allowing for mutual respect and providing a promising possibility for a universal, yet culturally sensitive, standard for global bioethics.


Senior thesis completed at Trinity College for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy.