memorandum by Mr Kaźmierczak, rapporteur
1 Terms of reference
and preparation of the report
1 On 30 April 2009, Ms de Melo and 27 colleagues tabled
a motion for a resolution on “The ethics of science”, which was
referred to the committee for report on 29 May 2009. The committee
appointed Ms de Melo rapporteur. An outline report was discussed
by the committee in Istanbul on 10 May 2010. I was appointed rapporteur
in replacement of Ms de Melo on 4 October 2010 and submitted to
the committee a revised outline report which was discussed on 13
April 2011. Following this discussion, a questionnaire was sent
to the national parliaments through the agency of the European Centre
for Parliamentary Research and Documentation (ECPRD) and Professor
Armin Grunwald, Director of the Office of Technology Assessment
at the German Bundestag, was commissioned to prepare a background
2 On 5 March 2012 in Paris, the committee held a joint hearing
on this issue in co-operation with UNESCO and discussed the background
report prepared by Professor Grunwald, with the participation of
Ms Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, and the following experts:
Professor Grunwald, Mr John Crowley, Head of the Ethics of Science
and Technology Section, UNESCO, Dr Jacques Bordé, former Director
of Research at the French National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS)
and Counsellor to its Committee of Science Ethics (COMETS), Ms Dafna
Feinholz, Team Leader for Bioethics in the UNESCO Sector for Social
and Human Sciences, Professor Jan Hartman, Chair of the Committee
for Good Academic Practices at the Polish Ministry of Science, Ms
Monique Atlan, journalist and producer at France 2, and Mr Roger-Pol
Droit, philosopher and member of the National Consultative Ethics
Committee (CCNE), France, authors of the book “Humain” (ed. Flammarion,
2012), and Professor Michèle Guillaume-Hofnung, Vice-President of
the Academy of Ethics, France.
3 On 28 June 2012 in Strasbourg, the committee held an exchange
of views with Professor Rafael Capurro, President of the International
Center for Information Ethics (ICIE) and former member (2000-2010)
of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies
(EGE), Mr Carlos de Sola, Head of the Bioethics Department, Directorate
of Human Rights, Directorate General I – Human Rights and Rule of
Law, Council of Europe, and Ms Laurence Lwoff, Secretary of the
Committee on Bioethics (DH-BIO), Directorate of Human Rights, Directorate
General I – Human Rights and Rule of Law, Council of Europe.
4 I wish to thank Professor Grunwald and all experts who took
part in the two hearings for their valuable contribution to this
of the report
5 Science and technology play a crucial role in the
development of modern societies. New knowledge and innovative technologies
are main driving forces of progress in many areas, such as welfare,
the economy, competitiveness, health, security and sustainable development.
However, as history has shown, scientific research and its outcomes,
in particular new technology, are ambivalent with regard to ethical
norms and values.
6 The debate on ethics in science and technology, and in particular
on the responsibility of scientists, went beyond restricted circles
after the development and use of the first atom bomb at the end
of the Second World War. It developed more broadly in the 1960s
with the increasing awareness of unintended side effects of technology,
primarily its effects on the environment. Today, ethical attention
is directed at science and its applications in many fields, such
as gene technology and biotechnology, biomedical engineering, molecular biology
and stem cell research, neurosciences, use of nanotechnologies in
medical treatment or various forms of human enhancement.
7 The debate focuses on possible impacts and consequences of
scientific research and technological developments for human beings
and society, and it opens up some fundamental questions of what
is human, or the place of man in nature and man’s relationship to
nature. While it has long been a matter of controversy whether science
has any morally relevant content at all, it has become clear that
science and technology are subject to human responsibility and call
for ethical reflection at national, supraregional and global level.
8 Some scientists perceive ethics as an obstacle to their work,
as it may lead to limitations and restrictions, and working in a
prohibitive setting. However, the opposite view is probably the
most accurate. Ethics is an intrinsic part of scientific integrity.
Science is based on rational argumentation, and ethical reflection
is also bound to good arguments. Ethics and science therefore share
the common conviction that the quality of arguments is decisive.
9 Scientific and technological advancement generally increase
possibilities for human action. Whatever has been inaccessible to
human intervention, whatever has had to be accepted as something
natural (which cannot be influenced) or as fate, is increasingly
becoming an object of human influence. This interpretation of scientific
progress represents a legacy of the European Enlightenment.
However, fundamental ethical questions derive from uncertainties,
unintended side effects, risks to human health and the environment,
misuse of knowledge and technology, and the loss of a general sense
of direction and purpose. The opportunity to choose from a number
of options has been converted over time into pressure to make a
choice. With humanity’s increasing empowerment for action, its responsibility
also increases, requiring a capacity to cope with a wider scope
of its freedom by means of taking responsible decisions.Note
11 Owing to this ambivalent situation, science and technology
have been over the past few decades accompanied by debates in society,
and the world of science, on the issues of risks and opportunities,
potential successes and side effects, degree of control and responsibility.
Approaches such as technology assessment, science and engineering
ethics and value sensitive design have been developed. Several scientific,
medical and engineering bodies have committed themselves to social
and moral responsibility and implemented codes of conduct.
12 However, what should concretely follow from an ethical consideration
is often a subject of controversy. Decisions are made by democratic
institutions, not by ethical judgment. We are confronted with diverging opinions
about the level of acceptable risks, the desirability of technical
intervention into the body, pre-implantation diagnostics and eugenics,
the use of animals, in particular primates, for experiments, the
moral status of the embryo, the commercial pressures on science,
the relationship between our responsibility for future generations
and the needs of today, and so forth.
Ethics in science and technology have to deal with these controversies,
which have become even more complex as a result of increasing globalisation
and intercultural exchange. Neither a universal moral or regulatory
framework for science nor a global governance of science is available.
This report will therefore examine, in particular, the following
- the present situation
regarding ethics in science and technology, its institutionalisation,
recent developments and current issues, with a focus on the situation
- risk factors and obstacles that could hamper compliance
with ethical frameworks concerning science and technology;
- consideration of a common foundation for an ethical framework
for scientific and technological development;
- considerations for political and institutional measures
which could contribute to a stronger role of ethics in the governance
of science and technology, and in particular possibilities for the
Council of Europe to address the current situation.
of ethical issues in science and technology
14 Science and technology exhibit ethical aspects, namely
with regard to: 1) the goals and purposes they pursue; 2) the instruments
they employ; 3) the consequences and side effects they produce;
and 4) the system of rules and behaviour within which they operate.
15 In order to provide a sense of direction for science and technology,
there needs to be a number of ideas concerning desired future developments
and the goals and visions of future research and its applications.
In many cases, the aims of science and technology are not problematic.
Visions like the development of therapies for illnesses such as
Alzheimer’s disease, the provision of new facilities to support
people with disabilities or the protection of society against natural
hazards will gain considerable social acceptance and ethical support. In
other areas, however, there are ethical conflicts and controversies.
The visions concerning human space flight, for example, are controversial
in nature, as in many cases are research goals for new and more
powerful weapons. In the field of “converging technologies” it is
disputable whether human performance should be enhanced and whether
research should be carried out to achieve this. These questions
challenge the policy of acquiring knowledge: What knowledge do we
want to have in the future and what do we not want to have? These
questions will obviously be subject to ethical analysis and deliberation.
16 Instruments, measures, and scientific practices, especially
research, may give rise to ethical questions. Examples are the moral
legitimacy of experiments on animals or of practices making human
beings, embryos, or stem cells subjects of research. Other examples
are experiments with genetically modified organisms or plants, especially
their release outside laboratories and, in earlier years, the experimental
testing of nuclear weapons. The collection and use of personal and
genetic data, as may be the case with biobanks, can also give raise
to serious ethical concerns over the right to respect for one’s
17 Since the 1960s, the unintended and adverse effects of scientific
and technical innovations have been considerable, and some have
assumed dramatic proportions: accidents occurring at technical facilities (Chernobyl,
Bhopal), threats to the natural environment (air and water pollution,
ozone holes, climate change), negative health effects, as in the
case of asbestos, and social and cultural side effects (for example
labour market problems caused by productivity gains). The growing
complexity of science and technology and
their close links with many areas of society are increasing the
difficulties to foresee and assess the consequences of new developments
and to prevent hazards. This applies in particular to new cross-cutting
technologies such as nanotechnology and other fields of new and
emerging science and technology (NEST).
18 A fourth dimension concerns the science system as such, its
rules and principles, its “workflow” and the behaviour and conduct
of scientists and researchers. Ethical reflection in this respect
points out the responsibility of scientists and researchers as professionals
responsible for safeguarding the quality of scientific and technological
output and for observing overarching regulatory and ethical principles.
It covers the issues of non-discrimination, intellectual property
rights and correct behaviour within the science system, but also
regarding its societal contexts, including the dialogue with society
and an open attitude to participatory procedures. Moreover, certain
rules in the evaluation systems of professional achievements and
scientific career could further affect the ethical behaviour of
scientists. Some potentially dangerous rules could incite and reward
non-ethical behaviour, such as violations of the rights of intellectual
property, plagiarism, spoofing of scientific data and “artificial
multiplying” of scientific achievements, for example by means of
“dismembered” publishing of results. These elements, if they exist,
ought to be recognised and eliminated. These issues primarily have
to be observed at an individual level, but adequate measures also
have to be implemented at the level of rules, regulation and structures.
Codes of conduct, self-regulation through peer review or other types
of rules of good scientific practice are instruments that can be
used to meet these expectations and challenges.
19 There is also room for philosophical and ethical reflection
beyond these areas. Ongoing debates address questions such as for
the future of mankind, the very nature of scientific and technological
advance and changing relations between mankind, technology and nature.
4 The European landscape
of institutions and activities relating to ethics in science and
20 Europe displays a very rich and varied landscape
of ethics in science and technology that is developed at various
levels and reflects different cultural and legal traditions. Councils,
committees and commissions debate ethical issues in various fields
and publish a considerable number of studies on a range of subjects. Specialists
dealing with ethics at universities, colleges and research institutes
are involved in further developing the theoretical basis of this
vast and growing subject. This section covers, however, only a small
selection of activities.
4.1 The Council of
The Council of Europe was a pioneer in the field
of bioethics from 1985 and into the1990s, preceding the adoption
of the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine (“Oviedo Convention”)Note
in 1997 and its successive protocols,
which influenced several European Union Directives and the Universal
Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights (UNESCO, 2005).
22 The Oviedo Convention entered into force on 1 December 1999.
To date, it has been ratified by 29 member States of the Council
of Europe, including Switzerland and France – two countries that
have a well-established pharmaceutical industry and advanced biomedical
23 The convention puts emphasis on the primacy of the human being
(Article 2): “The interests and welfare of the human being shall
prevail over the sole interest of society or science.” Equitable
access to health care of appropriate quality is also regarded as
a fundamental right (Article 3). With regard to the responsible
and proper behaviour of scientists, the Council of Europe does not
set up its own values and principles but refers to professional
standards (Article 4): “Any intervention in the health field, including
research, must be carried out in accordance with relevant professional
obligations and standards.” Of central importance for the convention’s
structure and content is the obligation to obtain informed consent
(Article 5): “An intervention in the health field may only be carried
out after the person concerned has given free and informed consent
to it.” Accordingly, particular emphasis is placed not only on the
protection of persons not able to give their consent and of individuals
with a mental disorder, but also on the issue of research on people
unable to give their consent. Other issues covered by the convention
include: research on the human genome, predictive genetic tests,
research on human embryos, and organ and tissue removal from living
donors for transplantation purposes.
Over the last decade, the Council of Europe has continued
its debate on specific issues concerning biomedicine in more detail
and has drawn up additional protocols to the Oviedo Convention concerning:
- Prohibition of Cloning Human
Beings (ETS No. 168)
- Transplantation of Organs and Tissues of Human Origin
(ETS No. 186)
- Biomedical Research (CETS No. 195)
- Genetic Testing for Health Purposes (CETS No. 203).
25 The Council of Europe also supports co-operation between national
ethics committees, and set up the European Conference of National
Ethics Committees (COMETH), the purpose of which is to promote co-operation
between national ethics committees, to help countries wishing to
do so to set up and run a national ethics committee, and to promote
a pluralist public debate on ethical issues raised by progress in
the fields of biology, medicine and public health.
26 The Council of Europe’s Committee on Bioethics (DH-BIO) is
currently working on the following issues: biomedical research,
biobanks and data protection; genetics and use of predictive health
data; end of life decision-making process considering the different
stakeholders; transplantation of organs and tissues of human origin
and the fight against organ trafficking; the situation in the member
States with regard to prenatal sex selection; protection of persons
with mental disorders with regard to involuntary placement and involuntary treatment.
Future themes considered include access to medical files, neurosciences
and enhancement, applications of brain imaging.
4.2 The European Union
Building on the pioneering work of the Council of
Europe, several European Union DirectivesNote
make explicit reference to
the Oviedo Convention. Reference is also made to it in the preamble
to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
28 In 1991, the European Commission set up the European Group
on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) and (re)formulated
its mandate for the period 2011-2015: The task of the EGE is to
advise the Commission on ethical questions relating to sciences
and new technologies, either at the request of the Commission or
on its own initiative. The European Parliament and the European
Council may draw the Commission’s attention to questions which they
consider to be of major ethical importance.
29 The EGE has considered legal and ethical aspects and issued
recommendations (opinions) in a number of diverse fields, such as
synthetic biology, clinical research in developing countries, patenting
stem cells, animal cloning for food supply, ethical aspects of modern
agriculture, nanomedicine and genetic testing at the workplace.
It is important to note that EGE opinions contain critical reflections
rather than moral judgments of what should be right or wrong.
30 Moreover, the European Union Code of Conduct for Responsible
Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies Research, adopted in 2008 on the
initiative of the European Parliament, goes beyond the challenge
of scientific integrity and addresses issues concerning the social
and ethical responsibility of researchers and scientists.
Similarly, the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme
for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration Activities
states that “[all] the research activities
carried out under the Seventh Framework Programme shall be carried
out in compliance with fundamental ethical principles” (Article
6.1) and excludes the following fields of research for ethical reasons
- research activity
aiming at human cloning for reproductive purposes;
- research activity intended to modify the genetic heritage
of human beings which could make such changes heritable (research
related to cancer treatment of the gonads can be financed);
- research activities intended to create human embryos solely
for the purpose of research or for the purpose of stem cell procurement,
including by means of somatic cell nuclear transfer.
32 The FP7 includes research on a large variety of ethical issues,
such as human enhancement, synthetic biology and nano-safety as
well as issues related to sustainable development, equity and access
to the benefits of new and emerging science and technology. Projects
running under the FP7 have to observe specific ethical guidelines.
33 The European Parliament addresses ethical issues of new and
emerging science and technology via its Scientific and Technological
Options Assessment unit (STOA). Recent or ongoing projects concern
synthetic biology (“Making Perfect Life”), nano-safety, human enhancement
and privacy issues.
4.3 European research
34 The European Research Council (ERC) has drafted its
own guidelines, which not only focus on the instrumental dimension
of science and research but also consider the “potential loss” of
35 The European Science Foundation (ESF) has 38 years of experience
in co-ordinating science and research networking programmes with
a high level of expertise in science management. With peer review guidelines,
it promotes the proper behaviour of scientists and researchers as
individuals with mutual respect and responsibility for independent
research and education. However, the dimension of the societal consequences
of future research is not addressed as such, and the responsibility
for future generations has been so far restricted to the supervision
of young scientists and scholars.
36 Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is a fairly new
element in science governance, reflecting the diagnosis that available
approaches to shaping science and technology still do not meet all
the high expectations. The hope behind the responsible innovation
movement is that new – or further developed – approaches (for example
the Value Sensitive Design approach) could considerably complement
existing approaches, such as technology assessment and ethics of
5 National level:
legislation, monitoring and institutional framework related to ethics
in science and technology
This chapter is based on the information document
AS/Cult/Inf (2013) 02NoteNote
with replies from the 33 Council
of Europe member States to the questionnaire that I addressed to
them through the agency of the European Centre for Parliamentary
Research and Documentation.
5.1 Legislation and
38 The level of regulation and accompanying mechanisms
for its implementation are very diverse across Europe, but in general
all countries have adopted laws and regulations in one or more of
the following areas: a) medical and health research; b) biotechnology,
including GMOs; c) other sciences and technology; d) animal testing;
e) social sciences and humanities; and f) general provisions (codes)
to regulate research, the work of scientists and scientific integrity,
including provisions for research within higher education.
39 Some national constitutions contain relevant provisions, namely
concerning the promotion of freedom of scientific research (Italy,
Montenegro, Poland, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”),
the protection of human dignity with regard to the application of
biology and medicine (Montenegro) and the requirement of voluntary
consent for scientific experiments (Bulgaria, Poland).
40 National research programmes represent the principal research
planning and co-ordination instrument and, through integration in
the European Research Area, are in principle linked to the strategic
objectives and ethical requirements under the European Commission’s
Seventh Framework Programme for Research.
41 Moreover, ratification of the Oviedo Convention and its protocols,
transposition of European Union directives and the European Charter
for Researchers were good incentives to advance legislation which reflects
ethical concerns and principles at the national level.
A good example is the “Code of ethics for scientific research”
adopted in 2008, outlining general
ethical principles to be applied in all areas of scientific research.
The code was jointly drafted by prominent experts from the Academies
of Science, Medicine and Fine Arts under the auspices of the Federal Public
Planning Service Science Policy. Another example is the “Code of
Ethics of Estonian Scientists”Note
drafted by the Estonian Academy of
Sciences to highlight the moral dimension of science and the social
responsibility of scientists. Several other countries such as Finland,Note
Hungary, Latvia, the Netherlands
have also undertaken similar initiatives.
In some countries, such as Poland, a “code of ethics” doesn’t formally
exist but in national law it is effectively replaced by other suitable
regulations and documents. However, most countries lack overarching
general guidelines to be applied in all areas of research.
5.2 Institutions and
Many European countries have ethics councils and
committees for different purposes, with different remits and in
different institutional settings.NoteNote
The majority have ethics committees
that are established at universities and/or hospitals to review
and approve clinical trials. Frequently, they dispose of ethical
codes to govern their activity. In some countries, there is a central
ethics committee to co-ordinate the work of local ethics committees.
44 Most countries have national bioethics committees with mandates
that vary from ethical review of research projects to an advisory
role to political decision-makers (president, parliament, government).
These bodies issue opinions on emerging ethical issues in connection
to biomedicine, for example on transplants, assisted reproduction,
cloning, protection of patients, privacy rights and data collection,
use of animals in research, and even on wider topics such as biodiversity
and release of GMOs. Those national bioethics committees took part
in the European and international dialogue on bioethics through
the European Conference of National Ethics Committee (COMETH) initiated
by the Council of Europe, and more recently the Forum of National
Ethics Committee (NEC Forum) funded by the European Commission.
45 For example, Switzerland has established two ethics committees
at the federal level, one for ethical questions affecting human
beings, mainly in the field of medicine (Swiss National Advisory
Commission on Medical Ethics), the other for ethical issues not
affecting humans (Swiss Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology).
46 In France, the National Consultative Ethics Committee for
Life Sciences and Health (CCNE) was set up in 1983 and is one of
the oldest ethics committees. Its focus is on ethical issues of
modern biomedicine, understanding responsibility in a broad social
sense. With the adoption of the Law on Bioethics in 2004, the CCNE
gained the status of an independent authority and expanded its mandate.
Germany established an Ethics Council (Deutscher Ethikrat) at the
federal level in 2001. It is autonomous in determining the issues
to be dealt with. Its remit is to advise the government and trigger
47 Committees on research ethics were established within hospitals
and universities in Poland from the 1980s onwards. Research ethics
obtained legal recognition under the Medical Professions Act of
1996, in particular to supervise clinical trials. Ethics committees
based at the Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Arts and Sciences
and the State Committee for Research promote good conduct in science.
48 Norway has a national system for research ethics composed
of specialised but co-ordinated national committees for research
ethics, which cover different research areas such as medical and
health research, sciences and technology, social sciences and humanities.
They share a common secretariat. In addition, there are seven regional
committees for medical and health research, the National Board of
Health Supervision, the National Data Inspectorate and the National
Commission for Investigation of Scientific Misconduct.
The parliamentary offices of technology assessment (EPTA)
are also increasingly involved in debating ethics in science and
technology. For example, in recent years, the Office of Technology
Assessment at the German Bundestag has commissioned studies on biobanks,
synthetic biology, brain research, geo- and climate engineering
and cognitive enhancement. In GreeceNote
example, national parliament also has a specific monitoring role,
in addition to drafting studies and holding public debates.
Finland displays a very good model of self-regulation within
the research community. Organisations that conduct scientific research
are primarily responsible for promoting good scientific practice
and dealing with alleged misconduct and fraud in science. The National
Advisory Board on Research Ethics, which includes representatives
from major scientific fields and key supervising authorities, has
which contain procedures for handling
alleged violations of good scientific practice and which cover all
fields of science. The research community is broadly committed to
these guidelines as well as to additional ethical norms for each
6 Risk factors and
51 In spite of the fact that ethics in science and technology
have been well developed over the past decades and have been implemented
in many institutional forms there are questions about their real
impact and concerns about the many threats to the effective respect
of ethical principles and standards. These threats are mainly related
to societal surroundings and influencing factors, including the
political, economic, institutional and social conditions within
which science and technology operate. In this respect, the following
elements are of major importance: 1) increased scientific competition
at the global level; 2) global mobility of researchers; 3) measurement
of excellence via the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI
citation system); 4) economic pressures on science; and 5) lack
of ethical transparency in private research.
52 Competition among scientists and scientific institutions all
over the world has increased dramatically over the past two decades.
The use of the Internet as a global medium of comparison and exchange,
the increased mobility not only of knowledge but also of people,
the emergence of a system of globally recognised scientific journals,
the institutionalisation of international evaluation regimes and
the expectation that good scientists should be visible at the international
level and be global players changed radically the functioning of science.
While in earlier times only highly specialised disciplines such
as Theoretical Physics formed an international community, today
all disciplines are expected to act globally. Ratings and rankings
of scientific institutions receive high awareness in science policy
in spite of severe methodological problems and critique. Competition
is about hiring excellent researchers and attracting promising students
and the best PhD students. In this context, ethical guidelines and
regulations are often regarded as an obstacle to research, slowing
down scientific progress and causing additional bureaucracy (for
example if research projects must be approved by an ethics committee).
University presidents and managers of research institutions, therefore,
may be tempted to sidestep ethical requirements in practice, although
these are needed to meet Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expectations.
53 Today, mobility of researchers at the global level is much
higher than in the past. While this is a welcome development in
many respects it has impact on the role of ethical reflection. Since
there is no universal framework for ethical assessment of science
or ethical behaviour of scientists, different ethical models are
to be applied when moving from one region, or even from one country
to another. Scientists could therefore look for best locations not
only with regard to resources but also with regard to low ethical
standards. Developing countries sometimes have no or very low standards
and this situation can be misused, for example by pharmaceutical
industry research. This well-known fact undermines the power of
ethical reasoning and calls for international agreements about ethical
54 A revival of “excellence” in the traditional sense, relying
only on inner-scientific criteria and neglecting ethical issues,
can be observed by looking at the increased importance of publication
indicators and publications in assessments and evaluations of the
journal of the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI). The strong
emphasis on excellence and the choice of specific indicators to
measure it could affect scientists’ engagement in ethical reflection
and their willingness to take over social responsibility actively.
55 Indeed, the increasing importance of the ISI citation and
impact factor system favour decontextualised and globalised science
while context-related research, dedicated to specific problem-solving
and including ethical reflection, is disadvantaged. Thus there is
a (perhaps unintended) tendency to bring science back to being a
more separated, perhaps isolated and more autonomous activity, following
its own rules and hunting for impacts in the ISI system rather than
taking care of the “real world”, for example by taking ethical and
social responsibility seriously.
56 Ethics in science as a reflective activity is not appreciated
in this system of excellence. Scientists might assume that engaging
in ethics would consume time and creativity resources which they
should, following the incentives of excellence and evaluation regimes,
better spend on publishing ISI papers (and this is also related with
the competition issue mentioned above). In particular, this holds
true for scientific careers, which are increasingly dominated by
quantitative criteria of excellence such as the citation index.
The force and pressure to become visible in this system is a serious
obstacle to the willingness to engage in ethical debates. The risk of
highly specialised researchers becoming narrow-minded, in their
own “virtual world” ruled by incentives and forces of purely inner-scientific
excellence has increased considerably in recent years.
57 Economic globalisation leads to growing economic competition
at the global level. The industrialised countries put much more
emphasis on the role of science as part of the national and regional
innovation systems, expecting that research and development could
strongly contribute to sustaining or increasing their competitiveness
in order to maintain economic success, employment, and welfare.
Some countries, like Germany, increased research funding even in
the time of the economic crisis. Consequently, the focus was shifted
to more application-oriented research, technology transfer and innovation
management. The political and economic pressure on science to provide
innovation can collide with ethical concern and could lead to a lowering
of standards in order to make innovation and economic success easier.
58 A considerable and, in many countries, dominant part of scientific
research and development is taking place in the private sector.
Private research has to observe the law, but is not bound to publicly
declared codes of conduct, to recommendations of ethics committees
or to ethical guidelines of research associations. Ethical questions
are here confronted with strategic analysis of the management, with
interest in return on investment and with financial and economic
concern. There is no public space for debating ethical questions
because of the private nature of the research. The main risk is
that private research is conducted which might have an enormous
impact on future society but without any prior ethical reflection.
The boundaries between science and the economy are increasingly
blurred in some fields. This is particularly the case in the field
of biotechnology where university professors are often also founders
and owners of companies directly transforming knowledge into new
products and services.
In this respect, reference can be made to Assembly Resolution 1870 (2012)
on the need for independent and credible expert assessments,
which cautioned against economic interests and lack of full and
transparent scientific information and assessment which have led
in the past to many health-care scandals (contaminated blood, use
of growth hormones, asbestos, controversy over GMO testing, controversy
over thresholds for electromagnetic fields in the mobile phone industry,
etc.). This resolution calls for a legal framework to reinforce credibility
of expert assessments and to guarantee a transparent and pluralist
expert debate prior to determining standards and sealing approvals
to commercialise products.
However much care is taken in prior assessments, the risk
of errors will remain. Therefore it is essential that adequate mechanisms
be established to monitor the effects of products after their commercialisation
is authorised and to intervene rapidly when they prove to entail
higher risks than those initially foreseen. Recent examples of chemical
and pharmaceutical products which allegedly may provoke serious
testify to the difficulties of ensuring
relevant unbiased and clear information of users and consumers,
and the effective protection of general interest and public health
against significant economic interests.
61 The growing number of liability cases against scientists who
are providing expertise and/or scientific forecast is a rather worrying
trend and has been increasingly reported in the media. In November
2012, a French psychiatrist was accused of failing to correctly
diagnose and medically follow up a schizophrenic patient who in
a fit of delirium murdered his grand-mother’s companion. Another
striking example of a very severe court judgment against four seismologists
and two engineers for failing to accurately predict the 2009 earthquake
in Aquila in Italy also raises a number of important questions:
Can a scientist be held liable for not being able to predict with
certainty what is difficult to accurately predict in nature or in
human behaviour? What is the interface between scientific expertise
and forecast, public communication and public decision-making to prevent
or minimise risks?
62 In conclusion, it becomes clear that: 1) the many activities
of science and technology ethics cover only parts of the entire
research; 2) increased and global competition within science and
technology, together with the increasing mobility of researchers,
threaten the possible impact of insular ethical regulation; 3) the
pressure towards scientific excellence in relation with quantitative
measures such as the ISI system endanger the role of ethics; 4)
economic pressure changes the nature of scientific research, pushing
it more towards commercial thinking, and raises the issue of scientific
7 Towards a universal
framework of science and technology ethics?
63 The institutions dealing with ethics in science and
technology are confronted with moral controversies and partially
diverging assessments and judgments. The moral plurality of modern
society is also reflected in ethical reasoning about scientific
research and progress, as different philosophical, religious and
cultural traditions influence ethical positions. This can be observed
even within Europe.
64 While the continental tradition is dominated by deontological
philosophy, with Immanuel Kant as probably the most influential
author with far-ranging consequences for ethical positions, the
Anglo-Saxon tradition relies on the utilitarian ethics developed
by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. In spite of the fact that
both traditions frequently produce concurrent results in concrete
applications, there is a deep philosophical gap sometimes leading
to practical divergence, in particular in the field of biomedicine.
65 Moreover, many different religious and cultural, including
non-religious, traditions coexist in Europe. Some of the major controversial
issues of ethics in science and technology are closely related to
religious beliefs. For example, the moral status of the embryo regularly
gives rise to debate about the permissibility of using embryos in
research. The Catholic Church holds a very strict position on this
issue. In other fields, such as nuclear power and nuclear waste
disposal, the Protestant Churches in some countries have expressed
a firm negative opinion.
66 The global level is even more complex. Cultural and religious
diversity does not only express itself in diverse regulations but
it strongly underlines some fundamental questions. For example,
European and Asian traditions each have a very different understanding
of human relation to nature; they display different images of nature
and evolution that consequently lead to some very different views
on the extent of human responsibility. Thus, in South Korea, for
example, the willingness to allow biomedical research in ethically sensitive
areas is much stronger than in most European countries.
67 Furthermore, notions such as “human life”, “person” and “dignity”
will be understood in different ways, resulting in diverging opinions
whether priority should be given to individual interests over the
interests of the community. Different trust in scientific advancements
can be noted between many European countries and the United States,
which has an impact on certain positions concerning the permissibility
of research. The role of the Precautionary Principle is also regarded
differently across the Atlantic.
68 Given these divergences and incompatibilities, it might seem
a senseless endeavour to ask for a universal framework for science
and technology ethics. Instead, given the rapid evolvement of science
and technology, an ongoing process of ethical reflection and international
dialogue would be required, which may have as an outcome an agreed
set of principles in the form of a “declaration” (ethos), using
the example of the Oviedo Convention in Europe or the Universal
Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights (UNESCO).
69 Setting up a permanent ethical reflection globally – which
has already been formalised in Europe through the EGE in co-operation
with a network of national ethics committees – would make it possible
to address ethical issues as a “moving target” rather than fixing
an “ethical code”. This approach to ethics in science and technology
would enable, at the global level, a periodic re-questioning of
even basic assumptions, such as the definition of “human identity”
or “human dignity”.
70 Science is not autonomous, but is instead “science
in society”. This implies that science and technology have an ethical
and moral responsibility. Ethical reflection is reasoning about
orientation and justification using the means of a discursive process.
In this sense, ethics in science and technology should not be assimilated to
a prohibitive factor, but understood as the basis of a constructive,
reasoned dialogue aimed at guiding scientific and technological
progress for the good of humankind. Scientists, politicians, industry
and other relevant stakeholders, citizens, philosophers and others
who are involved in ethical thinking should take part in this dialogue.
71 Ethical reflection influences critical thinking, which represents
the essence of democracy. Deeper reflection is therefore needed
on science and its purpose, considering also moral and cultural
plurality in Europe and worldwide. Advances in science and technology
that lie ahead for the 21st century will be inevitably of a greater
magnitude than those accomplished in the past. Science and technology
will affect the Earth, life and humans, by providing humans with
a capacity to alter life and the fundamental phenomena of our planet.
72 Moreover, science and technology today progress at a much
faster speed than the capacity of individuals and society to psychologically
adapt to it. As science and technology accelerate, there is an ever stronger
need to anticipate their evolution far in advance, since the questions
raised by them are so fundamental: What is human and what is human
identity? How to define human dignity? What is humankind’s place
within, and relationship to, nature? Should humankind be preserved
(in its natural form) or transformed?
73 Ethical reflection on science and technology must therefore
not be limited to academic circles. There needs to be a close link
to governance via scientific academies, funding agencies and scientific
associations, but also political institutions such as parliaments
and governments, and of course the general public. In this respect,
I have made a number of proposals in the draft resolution to invite
member States to strengthen existing legislation, monitoring procedures
and advisory structures, and to engage in a wide public debate in order
to extend and deepen ethical reflection and assessment to all fields
of research and to involve to a greater extent the scientific community,
private enterprises and the general public in this process.
74 In particular, research ethics committees should be more widely
established at the level of universities, hospitals and other medical
establishments, in order to enhance the understanding and application
of ethical principles and related legislation among students and
researchers. In most countries, scientists and research personnel
do not receive enough education and training on research ethics
and they are not fully aware of all requirements.
75 Capacity building – in particular through education – is crucial.
University education in all scientific disciplines should include
obligatory modules on the ethics of science across the world. The
capacity of researchers and scientists to deal with ethical issues
in their work should be improved by awareness-raising and dedicated
education. Courses to educate teachers in ethics could be introduced.
Curricula in secondary education should also initiate deeper critical
thinking on some fundamental issues related to science and technology,
including the definition of human and its place in relation to nature.
Reference should be made in this context to the educational tool
developed by the Council of Europe to promote debate among young
people on bioethical issues.
More dialogue among stakeholdersNote
well as public debateNote
on ethical issues emerging from scientific
research and development of technologies is advocated locally, nationally
and at European level. For example, European and regional platforms
could be created to regularly exchange experiences, along the lines of
the Forum of National Ethics Committees or meetings of the Council
of Europe Committee on Bioethics (DH-BIO) (formerly the Steering
Committee on Bioethics (CDBI)).
77 Moreover, greater harmonisation of ethical rules and monitoring
procedures is needed at national and also European level, particularly
in the biomedical field, where complex rules and procedures, as
well as numerous monitoring and advisory bodies co-exist.
78 Ethical reflection and assessment should be encouraged in
all fields of research, using the example and experience gained
in bioethics. General guidelines outlining overarching ethical principles
to be applied in all areas of scientific research should be drafted
and co-ordinated at national and European level.
79 Governments and parliaments need to give political priority
to this issue and facilitate adequate administrative and funding
support to monitoring and advisory institutions, guaranteeing their
independence and effective functioning, so that the implementation
of ethical principles can be improved in practice. European support
is also needed, including stronger requirements, building on the
positive impact of ethical requirements under the European Commission’s
Seventh Framework Programme for Research.
80 Based on the experience of UNESCO in drafting the Universal
Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, a committee could be
established at United Nations level to engage an ongoing ethical
reflection and to explore the possibilities of drafting and periodically
reviewing a set of fundamental ethical principles based on the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. Experience could be drawn from the
existing models in Europe and from the work of COMEST (World Commission
on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology).
81 Within the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly provided
valuable political guidance and reflection to the work of the Committee
on Bioethics, through joint debates which aimed to identify emerging ethical
issues and main ethical principles that could guide political and
legal action. A flexible and “light” structure could therefore be
envisaged to continue such co-operation in the future, by periodically
organising joint hearings and debates between relevant Assembly
committees and experts (members of the Committee on Bioethics and