UNESCO International Bioethics Committee

Article excerpt

UNESCO's interest in bioethics became evident in the 1970s at the beginning of the genetic era.

The organization became involved in the bioethics movement because, within the terms of its constitution (promotion of education, science, and culture), it brings together the basic elements of the ethics debate. Drawing every country into this debate, which is an ethical imperative, is part of the organization's universal and transcultural vocation. It is also UNESCO's duty to make world opinion aware of the necessity of recognizing the human species as a value whose dignity and uniqueness should be protected.

The organization does not wish to take the place of states, which must take the relevant decisions, whether legislative or otherwise, in genetics and in the application of biomedical sciences. Rather, its mission is to foster the concerted international cooperation in a spirit of solidarity essential if the world community is to face up to the ethical problems raised by the new genetics.

The International Bioethics Committee (IBC) is firstly a forum for exchange of ideas. Its main task is to facilitate an understanding - sensitive to diversity of values and cultures - of the changes that are underway, and not to set up an instrument of control to denounce or condemn. It will endeavor to inform and heighten public awareness and also encourage a worldwide dialogue among specialists, without overlooking the fact that bioethics poses a direct challenge to decisionmakers. As a corollary it will also foster concrete action, including educational initiatives to be carried out in the field.

The IBC consists of forty eminent experts with a four-year mandate. They include world-renowned specialists in biology, genetics, medicine, law, philosophy, and the human sciences. The committee met for the first time on 15 and 16 September 1993 to clarify the proposed principles that will respond to the main ethical preoccupations resulting from progress in the life sciences, especially genetics.

The committee elected a bureau for two years consisting of a president, Mrs. Noelle Lenoir, member of the Constitutional Council of France; three vice presidents: Mrs. M.-M. Mborantsuo, president of the Supreme Court of Gabon; Mr. H. Gros Espeil, former president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and former minister of foreign affairs of Uruguay; Mr. …