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3. Responsible science at the heart of policy making

3.1 The ethical dimension in science and the new technologies

The rapid pace of scientific and technological progress can give rise to serious ethical questions of concern to all Europeans. These questions may also have potential implications for future generations.

European society is a rich cultural tapestry, made up of divergent ethical, religious, historical and philosophical backgrounds. While respecting these cultural differences, it is vital to make research functional and clearly supported by the citizens in both the Member States and in the candidate countries. The European Parliament has undertaken efforts to clarify common positions on ethically divergent questions.

The European Group on Ethics (1) has helped guide the Community policies on culturally sensitive ethical questions in science. The freedom of science and ethical considerations in research as expressed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights should be respected and implemented, where possible, also in other parts of the world. For example, support should be given to the Franco-German initiative for a world-wide convention on the prohibition of human reproductive cloning (Article 3 of the Charter) which has been addressed to the UN.

Several international organisations (governmental and non-governmental such as - Council of Europe, European Science Foundation, UNESCO, WHO, World Medical Association, FAO and others) are actively promoting ethics in science and research. Member States are represented in these organisations, and optimal use has to be made of these structures. A close co-operation should be sought with these organisations in order not to duplicate efforts, but rather create synergy and lead to a responsible international science system.

Making information more accessible

Europe at large is in need of a more systematic information facility on ethical issues in science, providing access, in various languages, to information on legislation, codes of conduct, best practices, and debates taking place in the different European countries. The groundwork for such an information and documentation system is being laid through an EU project linking the most important documentation centers on bioethics in Europe. The network should be extended to other fields of ethics and connected to other relevant information centers in the world, in order to become a future network of excellence.

Action 29

An information and documentation observatory will be developed to help track and analyse the development of ethical issues in science at national and international level.

A European public dialogue on ethics in science

As recommended by the European Parliament (2) , researchers, business circles, standard-setters and social players need to be encouraged to enter into a public dialogue across Member States and the Candidate Countries on the new leading-edge technologies as soon as they begin to emerge. This will enable responsible choices to be made, supported by the appropriate policies and implemented at the right time.

Action 30

An open dialogue will be established between NGOs, industry, the scientific community, religions, cultural groups, philosophical schools and other interested groups, stimulating an exchange of views and ideas on a range of critical issues, such as the ethical impact of new technologies on future generations, human dignity and integrity, 'infoethics' and sustainability. A variety of mechanisms will be used (focus groups, polling exercises, e-debates, workshops or institutionalised forums etc).

Promoting awareness and integrity of researchers

The level of awareness among researchers of the ethical dimension of their activities is rather uneven in Europe. Actions to raise awareness of good scientific practices, including the ethical dimension, research integrity and the key elements of European legislation, conventions and codes of conduct should be encouraged. Basic training initiatives, together with the preparation of European training modules on ethics in science need to be created and disseminated. The development and the implementation of codes of conduct will be encouraged in various areas. These actions should take full account of cultural differences.

Action 31

Model courses and training modules will be developed in order to raise the awareness of researchers in the field of ethics.

Facilitating exchange between Ethics Committees

National Ethics Committees may wish to share results and experience at EU level, further to the activities of the Council of Europe. A Forum of National Ethics Committees of the EU and of candidate countries could offer opportunities for exchanges on specific topics of EU relevance, which would result in better policy co-ordination.

Networks of Local Ethics Committees will allow an exchange of views on minimum standards and would promote best practices in the evaluation of research projects with ethical content. Such networking will help industries to better operate across Europe, while creating more even conditions to protect our planet from potentially harmful effects of science.

Action 32

Networks of ethical committees will be fostered at both national and local levels. The aim will be closer co-operation and a more effective exchange of experience and best practice.

A dialogue on ethics with other regions of the world

The European Research Area is open to the world. It is therefore important to explore and understand the differences in the ethical framework for science in various regions of the world. European public research programmes (e.g. the EU funded initiative for malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS research) and industry, both sponsor clinical trials in developing countries that must follow agreed standards, such as the World Medical Association Helsinki declaration. Europe will support structures that promote ethical principles in science world-wide.

Action 33

An international dialogue on ethical principles will be developed through a series of conferences and workshops. An important aim will be to build up a capacity for ethical review in developing countries.

Protecting animals in research

The use of animals for research purposes is directly addressed by the Protocol on the protection and welfare of animals of the Treaty of Amsterdam. Efforts will be undertaken to improve the awareness of researchers on the principle of the 3Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement of animal experimentation) with a special attention to the species that are close to human beings.

Action 34

Networks of animal welfare committees will be fostered and training of young scientists on animal welfare issues will be promoted to support the implementation of European legislation on the protection of animals in research.

(1) The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies is an independent, pluralist and multidisciplinary body which has been set up by the European Commission to give advice on ethical aspects of science and new technologies in connection with the preparation and implementation of Community legislation or policies (Communication to the Commission of 11 December 1997 on the establishment of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (SEC(97)2404).

(2) Report on the legal, ethical, economic and social implications of human genetics - Temporary Committee on Human Genetics and other New Technologies in Modern Medicine - Final A5-0391/2001.

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