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© Michele Boiani, Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine

The rapid development of scientific and technological progress in medicine and the life sciences calls into question traditionally reliable ethical standards. Many countries lack the resources to negotiate the competing interests and values in this field in an adequate manner. Thus, global standards in bioethics differ substantially, but research and commerce are global. Experiments involving human beings are sometimes done where the restrictions are the lowest. Therefore, UNESCO has set up the International Bioethics Committee in 1993 and the Intergovernmental Bioethics Committee in 1998. Three declarations have been formulated:

  • the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights (1997),
  • the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data (2003) and
  • the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights (2005).

These declarations establish global bioethical standards on the basis of human rights. They raise standards in countries with previously insufficient bioethics regulations or none at all. Following-up to these declarations, UNESCO supports their implementation by establishing national ethics councils, by giving advice for the concrete formulation of ethics legislation and by drawing up ethics teaching programmes, for example through the online database GEObs.

Cover of the publication of the German translation of the UNESCO declaration

Bioethics in Germany

In Germany, ethics institutions, ethics legislation and ethics teaching are well established. Patients and test subjects who are unable to give consent to a therapeutic intervention or to scientific research are especially well protected. Because of this high respect for the individual’s right to consent, Germany has participated  actively in drafting UNESCO’s bioethics declarations. Germany is a member of the IGBC and has been represented on the IBC for many years.

The German Commission for UNESCO has disseminated UNESCO's declarations through publications and expert discussions. Its main objective is to ensure that the German bioethics debate is held with full awareness of its global responsibility.

UNESCO website on bioethics

Ethics of Science and Technology

UNESCO has established in 1998 the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST). Its tasks are to advise UNESCO and international decision-makers in this field, to exchange ideas and experience, to detect new risks early as well as to promote dialogue between scientific communities, decision-makers and the public at large. More Information



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