CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

Print Version    Email to Friend
Exploring ethics and morality through the beauty of art

HONG KONG (SE): “I have painted a young couple who could not have a baby receiving a surrogate child,” Cheung Ka-wun told a press conference announcing the winners of the 2013 UNESCO (United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation) Bio-Ethics and Human Rights Art Competition at the Inno Centre in Kowloon Tong on November 25.

“They are not ecstatic, as they have not really taken part in the creation of a life. The man is distracted by the contract he has signed with the surrogate mother. It is as much about money as it is about new life,” the 18-year-old student of jewellery design at the Hong Kong Institute of Design explained.

“I have also drawn the womb of the surrogate mother into the painting. There is money in the womb. I find something cynical in all this, as it seems to be about contracts more than receiving life,” she stated.

She explained that she also wanted to address the use of science to stroke egos, saying that she finds something cynical in creating designer babies, as they are a reflection of parental egos rather than gifting a new life with freedom and a unique identity.

The chairperson of the UNESCO Bio-Ethics Committee, Father Joseph Tham, explained that the competition was introduced in 2010, to express ethics as a living reality that can have its own beauty and the committee wanted it expressed in an imaginative and challenging manner through art.

This year, the completion ran in three categories for the first time. A student and photography section were added and five entries from each category have been chosen for exhibition.

They were judged on artistic skill and beauty, as well as on their reflection of ethical questions.

A member of the judging panel, local artist and educationalist, Kan Tai-keung, said that although the level of art has not reached world standards, it does address life and death issues in a challenging manner.

The challenge given for the competition was, Create an image, with respect for all cultures and religions that speaks to the impact of life sciences for present and future generations—illustrate love, compassion and care.

Kan pointed to a photograph chosen from the entries to be exhibited in Hong Kong, New York, Rome, Mexico City and Houston at a later date.

It depicts a woman on a life support machine. It is two photographs, which the author, Ben DeSoto, explains if viewed from the right distance the brain fuses the two into one. The same scene is juxtaposed in focus and blur, with the machine focussed in one and the woman in the other.

He asks the question, is the life being lived by the machine or the human being. “The image presents the real problems of humanity both in perception and mechanics,” he explains.

Father Tham added that it is a critical question for many families in today’s world, as they have to make decisions about when to turn off life support machines that are keeping their relatives breathing.

“We also need to explore how religion talks to this,” he added.

The committee explains the purpose of its art competition as conceiving a means of opening a dialogue within ourselves and amongst ourselves to explore issues that affect life and spirit.

“Exploration creates a means of contemplation and deliberation for those issues that mean everything: Life and Death,” it says. It calls it a mixture of contemplating life and expressing compassion.

Father Tham pointed out that the committee is aware of the need to address novel bio-ethical issues with knowledge and responsibility, especially those which respect the dignity and rights of every human individual.

“These questions must be engaged proactively rather than reactively,” he insists.

The Bioethics Committee sponsored a conference in Hong Kong from December 2 to 5, featuring speakers from a wide variety of backgrounds, religious traditions and cultures.

“Collaborating in a spirit of respect and friendship, we hope to deliver a common framework to guide the application of bioethical principles in the light of the 2005 Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights,” Father Tham explained.

The conference addressed how humanity is affected by technological advances and how it will affect coming generations.

“Our lives depend on making sure that we safely engineer the components of what we ingest, wear, use and surround ourselves with… Our sciences, laws, religions, social and cultural attitudes should weigh the consideration of ethics in our lives and of those to come,” a statement from the committee says.

Father Tham added that the art competition adds a vision to this, by creating an image that will be viewed and contemplated by many.

The competition received entries from 17 different countries. The overall winner chosen this year is a painting of many hands touching a child by Giovanni Gasparro, from Italy.

Kan explained that we all touch a child differently. “Some people receive it, some accept, others caress, some nurse, while others may reject or express fear in their touch. But how we receive a baby says a lot about how we will bequeath to the coming generation,” he reflected.

Gasparro says the many hands reflect the protective hold of science on future generations. They are seen as an aid to life,” he explains, “not an instrument keen to deny it.”

He poses a question from Pope Pius XII, “Can killing someone with physical or mental defects, and who cannot be of any service to the country, but is a burden, be legalised?”

Father Tham pointed out that morality is a highly sensitive topic in any society, but a vital one, as moral behaviour is not just for ourselves, but for generations to come.

“We need to consider the next generation in our decision-making,” he noted. He pointed out that is a highly critical question to ask in the atmosphere of today’s politics and cultural discussions.

Kan added that if everything in this world is reduced to utility, then it becomes meaningless.

Father Tham was born in Hong Kong in 1965, but migrated with his family to Canada, where he completed high school and studied medicine, graduating in 1986. He has since studied science, mathematics, philosophy and bioethics.

He was ordained in 2004 for the Legion of Christ congregation.


He strongly believes that for the creation of a healthy environment in this world, we need to ponder life with wonder and compassion.

More from this section