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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.