Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights
About the Programme
Since the 1970s, the field of bioethics has grown considerably. While it is true that bioethics today includes medical ethics issues, its originality lies in the fact that it goes much further than the various professional codes of ethics concerned. It entails reflection on societal changes and even on global balances brought about by scientific and technological developments. To the already difficult question posed by life sciences – How far can we go? – other queries must be added concerning the relationship between ethics, science and freedom.
A growing number of scientific practices have extended beyond national borders and the necessity of setting universal ethical guidelines covering all issues raised in the field of bioethics and the need to promote the emergence of shared values have increasingly been a feature of the international debate. The need for standard-setting action in the field of bioethics is felt throughout the world, often expressed by scientists and practitioners themselves and by lawmakers and citizens.
States have a special responsibility not only with respect to bioethical reflection but also in the drafting of any legislation that may follow. In the field of bioethics, whilst many States have framed laws and regulations aimed at protecting human dignity and human rights and freedoms, many other countries wish to establish benchmarks and sometimes lack the means to do so.
Over the years UNESCO has confirmed its standard-setting role in bioethics. UNESCO has contributed to the formulation of basic principles in bioethics through in particular the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, adopted unanimously and by acclamation by the General Conference in 1997 and endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1998, and the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data, adopted unanimously and by acclamation by the General Conference on 16 October 2003.
Apart from the fact that ethical issues related to the advances in life sciences and their applications were and still are highly topical, the depth and extent of their roots in the cultural, philosophical and religious bedrocks of various human communities were reason enough for UNESCO, the only organization whose fields of competence include the social and human sciences, true to its ethical vocation, to take the lead in this initiative.