The Centre for Applied Ethics was awarded more than R1.6 million for research over the next four years.
The Centre, which is attached to the Philosophy Department at the University of Stellenbosch, is a service and research body that focuses on the values and ethics that underpin the moral fabric of South Africa.
It comprises the Unit for Bioethics, the Unit for Environmental Ethics and the Unit for Business Ethics.
Commenting on the significance of the funding, Director of the Centre for Applied Ethics Prof Anton van Niekerk says: "In order to create a stable, coherent and prosperous society in the present and future, we believe there is a need to examine our values - those enduring beliefs that govern our actions.
"The demand for this type of reflection in a post-apartheid South Africa has sprung out of the violence, moral indifference and ongoing criminality that continue to plague our society.
"Using philosophical tools, the Centre reflects on the questions of right and wrong, good and bad that emerge in practical situations in the medical, business and environmental spheres.
"This process of deliberation is no simple task in a country where we have both great diversity in cultural values as well as a convergence of values due to the impact of modernisation", says Prof van Niekerk.
The Unit for Environmental Ethics was awarded R1 million over four years from the National Research Foundation for a project entitled Refining Sustainable Development.
Discussing the research project, Unit for Environmental Ethics head Prof Johan Hattingh says: "It focuses on one of the most used and perhaps most over-used concepts in public policy worldwide today."
While the concept of sustainable development was already in use at the Rio Conference in 1992 and again at the World Summit in Johannesburg in 2002, not much has materialised in the way of implementation," he says.
The Unit will be investigating different models of implementing the concept in an attempt to assist in more effective environmental decision-making and policy.
Following the Unit for Environmental Ethics's release of an opinion survey on environmental decision-making in Cape Town, they will be offering a series of courses and workshops for business, non-governmental organisations, activists and government.
The Unit for Bioethics received two grants over the past year, totalling an amount of about R600 000. The one grant of R400 000 was awarded by the National Research Foundation to Prof van Niekerk for a large research project on "Bioethics and public medicine in the South African context, with special reference to HIV/AIDS and new genetic technologies." In addition to this, the Medi-Clinic Corporation donated R200 000 over two years to the Unit for Bioethics for research and increased interaction between the Unit and the sphere of private medicine in South Africa. The company aims to facilitate a greater level of co-operation between themselves and the Unit.
Discussing the significance of these research funds, Unit for Bioethics head, Prof van Niekerk says: "The focus of bioethics internationally and in South Africa is increasingly shifting to ethical problems generated by public medicine. A number of post-graduate students are working with me on some of these problems, e.g. the issue of ethical review of research on human subjects and the moral status of embryonic stem-cell research. Many of the new genetic technologies are presenting themselves in a moral vacuum, and we intend to help fill that vacuum".
Future plans for the Unit for Bioethics include a comprehensive book on the ethical problems related to HIV/AIDS in Africa. It is being edited by Prof Anton van Niekerk and Prof Loretta Kopelman of East Carolina University in the USA, and will by published by New Africa Books/David Phillip in the course of 2005. Just about all the experts on this issue in South Africa and abroad have made contributions to this volume. Prof. van Niekerk also has a contract with Polity Press in Cambridge to write a comprehensive introduction to biomedical ethics. He intends to do this during his year-long sabbatical in 2005.
Head of the Tygerberg section of the Unit for Bioethics Dr Moodley is on the verge of completing her doctoral dissertation on the problems of research ethics committees in South Africa, and is continuing her initiative to co-ordinate some of the work of these committees, by, amongst others, publishing a bi-annual "SAREC Newsletter". Each of these colleagues address in the order of more than 20 conferences and meetings per year on bioethical topics.