Autonomy and Solidarity: Bridging the Tensions

From the inception of bioethics, debates within bioethics have been focused on—some might say, obsessed with— defining the scope and limitations of individual freedom, typically within the rubric of autonomy.  The concept remains central. But recent decades have broadened the overall focus of debate in two important ways.


First, bioethics has expanded beyond clinical and medical ethics to public health ethics.  That is, in addition to individual-centered issues arising in medical practice or research, scholars have considered the population-level. They have addressed what individuals are owed—and what they owe—in contexts such as healthcare resource allocation, preparing for and responding to pandemics, or enabling healthy living and work environments.


Second, in parallel to economic globalization and a world brought closer together through the internet, there has been broader debate about how to respond to dramatic differences in life expectancy and quality of life across countries.  News and social media inform us about the consequences of poor health policy or research practices, natural disasters, or political turmoil occurring thousands of miles away. International governance structures seek to assist those in need, and many of the world’s more privileged individuals support those worse off outside of these formal arrangements—but the persistent inequality remains shocking.

The concept of solidarity cuts across both recent trends in bioethics, revealing the limitations of a bioethics narrowly focused on individual autonomy.  Solidarity with vulnerable and non-vulnerable groups enables autonomy at the local and global level. But its exact meaning, including what obligations people have to act in a solidaristic way, remains far from clear.


This conference, as all previous World Congresses, is open to the diverse conceptual and methodological approaches as well as disparate fields of inquiry that bioethics comprises.  We nonetheless hope that a major unifying theme that will run through the conference will be new perspectives on the boundaries of solidarity with those we identify with—or should identify with—as equally deserving of assistance, rights or respect.


Session Tracks & Themes

There are four formats for submissions: individual papers, posters, symposia, and workshops.

All types are organized in 10 tracks: 

1) Clinical and health care ethics

2) Research ethics

3) Public health ethics

4) Ethics of new technologies

5) Environmental and non-human animal ethics

6) Justice, human rights, law, health policy

7) Underrepresented minorities: emerging issues

8) Philosophy, history, religion studies

9) Arts and ethics

10) Other topics in bioethics


Click here for the full list of Session Tracks & Sub-Themes



September 9, 2019      Abstract site opens for submission
November 11, 2019 (11:59 PM EST*)      Deadline extended for abstract submission
January 10, 2019      Notification of acceptance/rejection of abstracts
January 31, 2020 (11:59 PM EST*)       Author response (accept/decline presentation)


*The 11:59 PM EST, Eastern Standard Time, deadline is that time in Philadelphia.



WCB is awarding 18 regional prizes for the highest scoring abstracts from the following regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Australia/Oceania. Six prizes each are available in the following three categories:


Mark S. Ehrenreich Prize – Papers Awards


Medard Hilhorst Prize – Posters Awards


Early Career Researcher Prize, sponsored by the Wellcome Trust – Any Format


All abstracts meeting the review criteria will be eligible for consideration of the available prizes.



There is limited opportunity to host half-day, full day, or 2 day satellite meetings (in whatever form: mini conferences, workshops, etc) before the WCB, parallel to FAB. Organizers typically benefit from a wider range of participants who were already planning on attending the WCB.  If you would like to discuss hosting a satellite meeting, please email:



Check back soon for more information…


Additional Program Features

To promote effective networking and career advancement, there will be additional events taking place during the conference, as noted below:


1) Junior-senior scholar mentorship breakfasts
Each day offers and interests to be indicated during abstract submission and registration


2) Meet-the-editor sessions
With six top journals in bioethics


3) Meet-the-sponsor sessions
Five top international and domestic research funders


4) Empirical methods workshops
Systematic reviews, qualitative and quantitative work


5) Bioethics Careers session
Mid-career and senior scholars discuss their trajectories


6) Meetings of the IAB sub-networks over lunch


7) A free conference reception and a subsidized conference dinner


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