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Public debate on new technology is essential to ensure it respects human rights, says PACE committee

As nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and the cognitive sciences converge, a PACE committee has called for “a new culture of public dialogue” on scientific advances to ensure that new technologies respect human rights.

The committee makes reference to existing tools, such as the Guide to Public Debate on Human Rights and Biomedicine drafted by the Council of Europe Bioethics Committee (DH-BIO) and the toolkit developed by the EU project Engage2020.

The “deep global impact” of the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, has opened a wide spectrum of issues which require “participatory policy and decision-making processes”, the Assembly’s Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media said in a draft resolution based on a report by Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC).

The committee urged new bodies linking science with policy-making, such as parliamentary “committees for the future”; a new emphasis on the importance of “societal engagement” in schools and universities, especially among academics working in the field of science and technology; and encouraging public service broadcasters to engage with scientists to promote public debate.

Parliaments also have a key role to play in this process, the committee said, suggesting targeted training for parliamentarians and specialised parliamentary bodies whose task would be to assess new technology while both feeding and responding to public debate. The European Parliamentary Technology Assessment (EPTA) network can provide a platform for sharing this expertise. 

The full Assembly will debate the report in due course.