Respect for human vulnerability and personal integrity

Three years of reflection devoted to the principle of respect for human vulnerability and personal integrity set forth in the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights of 2005, have enabled the International Bioethics Committee (IBC) to draw up its report which analyzes and proposes lines of actions for a very basic inequality among human beings:

We are all equally entitled to meet our basic needs related to our health and well-being. Nevertheless, it is a fact that not all of us are equally and permanently able to meet those needs.

This inequality is particularly highlighted and exacerbated in the context of advances in the fields of scientific knowledge, medical practice and associated technologies. These advances have certainly opened the way for many new and powerful capacities for the safeguarding of human welfare. However, these very same advances have also created mechanisms of exploitation and degradation which can take advantage of natural and context-related vulnerabilities.

In writing this report, which is neither exhaustive, nor prescriptive, the ethicists, geneticians, biologists, lawyers, philosophers, psychiatrists, neurologists and immunologists composing IBC aimed at paving the way for a broader reflexion and indicate possible lines of action not only for States, but also for individuals, groups, communities, institutions and corporations, public as well as private. They specifically enjoin all concerned stakeholders to exercise great vigilance in protecting those who are especially vulnerable. The experts for example mention the case of female children or women affected by war who are more exposed to the risk of being unwanted, uncared for, abused and rejected. Migrants, who, due to their lack of knowledge of the local language and of their social and legal entitlement are impaired in their ability to seek access to healthcare, are also mentioned as particularly vulnerable. Likewise, populations living in areas hit or prone to be hit by natural disasters have a higher need for protection since their lack of means and/or their incapacity to protect themselves causes or exacerbates their vulnerability.

Nearly every country of the world is the home of one or the other type of vulnerable groups: countries in which proper antiretroviral therapies are for various reasons not being provided to a majority of HIV/AIDS infected people; countries in which poor patients are refused healthcare because they lack an insurance; countries in which victims of war are without their knowledge used for clinical trials.

IBC’s eye opening reflection and practical and informed recommendations could inspire their governments to work in a coherent and effective way for the betterment of their citizens, especially of those who most need help.

Read the Report of the IBC on the Principle of Respect for Human Vulnerability and Personal Integrity [PDF, 194 KB]

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