National Bioethics Committees

What is a National Bioethics Committee?
In UNESCO there is no official definition of a National Bioethics Committee. Member States have chosen different models and approaches. The system of addressing bioethical issues in relation to the governmental structure is different from country to country. However, some indications can be given.

  • Name

  • National Bioethics Committees can have different names: Committee, Council, Advisory Body, Consultative Committee, Standing Committee.

  • Bioethics committee

  • Whatever the name, a ‘Bioethics Committee’ is a committee that systematically and continually addresses the ethical dimensions of (a) the health sciences, (b) the life sciences, and (c) innovative health policies. The term “bioethics committee” simply signals that a group (a chairperson and members) are meeting regularly to address issues that are not simply factual, but are profoundly normative. That is, they do not convene to determine only what is or is not the case regarding some realm of interest, but to answer the question: ‘How ought we to decide and act?’

  • National

  • Only committees that operate on the level of the Member State as a whole are considered as national committees. In many countries there are committees operating at regional, state or provincial level as well as at institutional level. There are also international or global committees in, for example, ALECSO, the European Union and UNESCO.
    In order to be labeled ‘national’, the committee needs to be recognized as such by the Member State. Sometimes, even if the Committee is operating at national level, and is representing the Member States in international fora, it has not been recognized as National Bioethics Committee by the authorities.

  • Types of committees

  • Depending on how the committee is established, three types can be distinguished.
    • Type 1: Committee established by a governmental body, in most cases Parliament or the relevant Ministry. In some cases, committees are established by the President or the Prime Minister. These committees are usually authoritative since they result from a political decision to have a national committee in the country.
    • Type 2: Committee established by a non-governmental body, such as a professional organization (e.g. academy of science or medical association), a policy-advisory body (e.g. health council) or an NGO.
    • Type 3: Committee created by the National Commission for UNESCO.

  • Forms of Bioethics Committees

  • Bioethics Committees can have four forms with different functions:
    • Policy-making and/or Advisory Committee
    • Health-Professional Association Committee
    • Health Care/ Hospital Ethics Committee
    • Research Ethics Committee
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