Dr. Farhat Moazam, a restless spirit
Training at the University lifts physician to leadership post of first biomedical ethics institute in Pakistan
|There’s a greater awareness and sensitivity among many Muslims in the post 9/11 world about their religion and what it actually says.
|Dr. Farhat Moazam
By Charlotte Crystal
“I needed another challenge.” That’s how Dr. Farhat Moazam, a pediatric surgeon, explains her decision to take her career in a new direction.
Moazam received her doctorate in religious studies from U.Va. last May and in January will return to her native Pakistan to direct the Centre of Biomedical Ethics & Culture at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation in Karachi. The center is one of very few in the Islamic world, and Moazam, a Muslim woman, will be its new leader.
Contemporary bioethics should be relevant to other cultures and make sense in those contexts, she said, which is why she insisted on the inclusion of “& Culture” in the name of the new
Moazam received her medical degree at Dow Medical College in Karachi in 1967. She interned at Flushing Hospital and Medical Center in New York and was named the Best Intern of the Year for 1969-1970. She completed her residency in general surgery there, and later signed on as a house physician at Manhasset Medical Center on Long Island.
In 1975 she accepted a position as a pediatric surgery fellow at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and became a clinical professor in the Department of Surgery in 1985.
The same year, Moazam received a phone call from doctors in Karachi. An international group of academics was organizing the first private university in Pakistan, Aga Khan University, and they needed a founding chairperson for the Department of Surgery. Was Moazam interested?
She was. For the next 15 years, Moazam developed the Department of Surgery at AKU. She served as chief of pediatric surgery and launched the first systematic pediatric surgery residency program in Pakistan. During her last five years there, she served as the founding associate dean for post-graduate education (dean of graduate studies) for health sciences.
Her return to Pakistan and clinical work at AKU ignited an interest in cross-cultural bioethics and the ways in which indigenous cultural beliefs and values influence a sense of morality and understanding of the world.
She took a year’s sabbatical, from 1998 to 1999, and during that time earned a master’s degree in biomedical ethics from U.Va. Her master’s thesis focused on the ethics of conducting medical research in developing countries: “Trials and Tribulations in the Third World: Hard Science, Vulnerable Lives.” The subject struck a chord with her.
During the fall of 2000, she stepped away from her clinical practice and harried academic schedule to pursue a doctoral program in U.Va.’s Department of Religious Studies. This allowed her to study a combination of philosophy, anthropology and religion. Her dissertation was based on three months of ethnographic research at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation in Karachi, the country’s busiest public transplantation hospital.
In a country where cadavers are not used as sources of organs for transplantation, Moazam studied the ethical issues raised by kidney transplants from members of a patient’s extended family. Her dissertation — “The Sands of the Ocean: Live, Related Renal Transplantation in Pakistan: Who Shall Give, Who Shall Receive a Kidney?” — explores the discussions about the kidney transplants she witnessed among physicians, their patients and their patients’ extended families, including parents, children, siblings, and sometimes uncles, aunts and grandparents.
Moazam has published her research throughout her career. Her most recent articles suggest the new direction her interests have taken her. The titles include: “Reconciling Patients’ Rights and God’s Wisdom: Medical Decision Making in Pakistan,” in an online journal The Responsive Community; “At the Interface of Cultures,” in the Journal of Clinical Ethics; and “Feminist Discourse on Sex Screening and Selective Abortion of Female Fetuses,” in the Journal of the International Association of Bioethics.
As head of the first institute of biomedical ethics in Pakistan, Moazam plans to foster local discussions of ethical issues that arise in biomedical research and clinical practice, launch educational and research programs in bioethics, and contribute the cultural perspective of a female Muslim to the global discussion of biomedical ethics.
She also expects to collaborate on international research projects, create a master’s program in biomedical ethics for her center, and establish
international faculty and student exchanges, beginning with colleagues at U.Va.’s Center for Biomedical Ethics. Paul Lombardo, an expert in eugenics and a member of the U.Va. center’s core faculty, recently returned from Karachi. He traveled there to address the Oct. 8 inauguration of the Centre of Biomedical Ethics & Culture as the keynote speaker. Next April, Jonathan Moreno, director of the U.Va. center, and Abdulaziz Sachedina, professor of religious studies at U.Va. and an expert on Islam, will participate in a week-long seminar organized by the Karachi center.
Some may wonder: Why the increased interest in Pakistan? Why now?
There’s a greater awareness and sensitivity among many Muslims in the post 9/11 world about their religion and what it actually says, Moazam said. “People want to go back to the sources. They want to find out what Islam says on different topics. There’s interest among
educated medical professionals as well as the public.”
It’s also a question of the times and of the state of medical technology.
“There is no country now where people are not talking about bioethics,” Moazam said.