I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.
—Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792
We learned, with great sadness, that Anne Donchin had passed away. She is a part of the history and development of feminist bioethics and, together with Becky Holmes, started the International Network on Feminist Approaches to Bioethics (FAB). She is, in addition, part of our personal histories. We offer the following tributes in her memory.
—Susana E. Sommer & Silvia Woods
The Fourth World Congress of Bioethics took place in Japan in 1998. I was able to attend thanks to the financial assistance of some women I did not then know. It was a long trip, passing through several time zones, and took me from Buenos Aires to Tokyo.
I met Anne for the first time in Tsukuba, where the first part of the meeting took place. She and Becky Homes had created FAB six years earlier to bring a feminist perspective to discussions about the exclusion of women and other discriminated against groups. With time, I discovered how these women were able to put into action words like sorority and solidarity. At Tsukuba, the sessions were intense and interesting, and hearing about relational autonomy as an answer to the oppressive social conditions of women left me deeply impressed.
When it came time to add new members to the FAB Board, Anne proposed that I serve. I agreed and was rewarded with an enriching personal relationship. Anne told me I would be welcome at her home if I came to New York, which I thought quite unlikely. As a matter of fact, I had more than one chance to stay with her and Edmund Byrne, her partner, in Hastings-on Hudson, where we shared long talks, promenades, and delightful meals.
Anne played an important and influential role in my life, just as much intellectual as emotional. I will never forget her generosity, her smile, her humor, her joie de vivre, and her importance in the development of feminist bioethics.
—Susana E. Sommer
World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology, UNESCO
My conversations with Susana Sommer are always filled with personal stories and anecdotes. The last two were devoted to Anne.
Reading Susana’s warm tribute, I experience once again how emotions are an essential tool for transmitting culture and values.
Anne’s social networks and contacts were many and varied, both within and outside of the academy, and her friends included colleagues, artists, other professionals, service providers, and many others who were important not only in her academic life but in all facets of it.
The memory of Anne will always be with us, and her accomplishments will continue to guide much of the ongoing struggle to address the many inequalities that still affect women. It was marked by deep thought, an ability to communicate with others from a position of humility, and an ever-present sense of humor that characterized all her personal exchanges.
Her warning that we cannot interpret bioethics in its relation to human rights if the universalist positions are not marked by an understanding of the inequalities in the world—including not only those between the different genres but that between the dominant countries and the developing ones—is still relevant today. She articulated this in “The Pursuit of Universality: Reflections on the Draft of the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights,” an article written in collaboration with Mary C. Rawlinson and published in 2008 in Revista Perspectivas Bioéticas (nos. 24/25). I quote:
More pertinent to the development of a global bioethics than the invocation of abstract norms, would be attention to the controversy between those who wish to limit bioethics and the scope of the UNESCO document to “emerging” issues in medicine and the life sciences linked to new knowledge and new technologies, such as the regulation of genetic research, and those who feel “that the social dimension of bioethics should be at the heart of the future declarations.” Taking a global perspective, even one limited to Anglo-European societies alone, “persistent” issues of poverty, access to health care, education, and sustainable environmental resources have far more immediate bearing on health and bioethics than does the regulation of esoteric research.
It is precisely her focus on the social dimension that is permanently highlighted in her thought. Certainly, the emphasis to make obvious that dispute—which is still a crucial issue—is one of Anne Donchin’s greatest legacies to build bioethical support for public health issues.
Her contribution to the debate on this interdisciplinary field will remain a benchmark.
University of Buenos Aires
This tribute will additionally be published in the next issue of the journal Perspectivas Bioéticas edited by Florencia Luna.
Editor’s note: For addition tributes to Anne Donchin, see volume 8, number 1 of IJFAB, the April 2015 issue.