UNESCO adopts Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights

20 October 2005 – Beyond the well-established principles of informed consent and confidentiality, social responsibility, including improved access to quality health care, figures high in a new Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“While it is still up to States to create legal texts and instruments appropriate to their cultures and tradition, the general framework proposed by the Declaration can help ‘globalize’ ethics in the face of the increasingly globalized sciences,” UNESCO said of the text adopted by acclamation at its General Conference’s 33rd session in Paris yesterday.

“The Declaration meets a genuine and growing need for international ethical standards in this area,” it added citing the proliferation of practices that go beyond national borders, often without a regulatory framework such as biomedical research projects carried out simultaneously in different countries and the importing and exporting of embryos, stem cells, organs, tissue and cells.

The first principle established by the Declaration is the respect of human dignity and human rights, emphasizing the priority of the interests and welfare of the individual over the sole interest of science or society.

Beyond the already well-established principles of informed consent, respect for privacy and confidentiality, non-discrimination and non-stigmatization, UNESCO said the notion of social responsibility was new.

“It stresses that progress in science and technology should promote the well-being of individuals and of humanity, notably by improving access to quality health care and essential medicines as well as to adequate nutrition and water,” it added. “The principle of sharing benefits is also affirmed… as is the safeguarding of the environment, the biosphere and biodiversity.”

The Declaration is the third standard-setting text on bioethics adopted by UNESCO. The first, the 1997 Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1998. It was followed by the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data in 2003 that sets ethical standards for collecting, processing, storing and using human genetic data contained in biological samples such as blood, tissue, saliva and sperm.

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