Secretary-General's message to the 34th UN International School-UN Conference - "Bioethics: Striking a Balance"
New York, 4 March 2010Teachers, Students, Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and girls,
Please accept my best wishes for a successful conference today. I congratulate you on your choice of subject. Bioethics is a matter of growing international importance which has implications for many areas of our lives.
If we aspire to living an ethical life, we must be aware of the difficult questions that continuously arise from our changing circumstances. Some of these questions concern new social realities and expectations. Others emerge in response to advances in the life sciences.
As we develop technologies that enable us to make life-or-death decisions, we need a shared, value-based approach to what are fundamentally moral questions. The field of bioethics attempts to guide us.
Bioethics focuses on the social, legal and moral questions surrounding scientific research that affects living things. This includes work on stem cells, genetic testing, cloning and the allocation of scarce health care resources.
This field was initially the preserve of experts. But it soon became clear that it should be broadened to include civil society and the general public, as well as philosophers, lawyers, medical professionals and scientists. It also became clear that while bioethical decisions have to be made locally and nationally, there is a need for sustained international dialogue.
Today, we are witnessing the globalization of health research, the spread of 'health tourism' and the diminishing importance of national boundaries in the fight against deadly epidemics. All these demonstrate that bioethics has an important international dimension. Issues such promoting access to quality healthcare, sharing the benefits of scientific research, and the protection of the environment, biodiversity and the biosphere can not be discussed without considering their global implications.
It is therefore natural that bioethics has become an important field of activity for the United Nations and its specialized agencies. The UN sets standards and supports efforts to improve the quality of bioethical debate around the world. The UN has also adopted three important declarations: the 1997 Universal Declaration on the Genome and Human Rights, the 2003 International Declaration on Human Generic Data, and the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights in 2005. These instruments acknowledge the wide range of value systems in the world today, while attesting to core universal ethical values that are relevant in all cultural and social settings.
Bioethics deals exclusively with controversial issues. It is therefore important to identify common grounds around which discussion can take place. Debate and reflection, in which you are engaged today, are crucial to this process. In that spirit, I send you my very warmest wishes for an interesting and constructive conference.
Statements on 4 March 2010