03.11.2009 -

UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee (IBC) to meet in Mexico City in November

UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee (IBC) will meet in Mexico City (Mexico) from 23 to 25 November. This 16th session, organized in cooperation with the Consejo Consultivo de Ciencias of the Presidency of Mexico, will be followed by a European Commission-UNESCO conference, which will bring together experts and members of national bioethics committees from around the world from 26 to 28 November. These two meetings were initially planned for last May but were postponed due to the A(H1N1) flu epidemic.

Three main topics will concern this session of the IBC: social responsibility and health; the principle of respect for human vulnerability and personal integrity; and the issue of human cloning and international governance. In addition, the status of bioethics in Latin America and the Caribbean will be examined.

The 16th session will be opened on 23 November (9.15 a.m.) by Alonso Lujambio Irazábal, the Mexican Minister of Education, Pierre Sané, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, and Adolfo Martínez-Palomo, Chairperson of IBC. The opening ceremony will be followed at 10.00 a.m. by a progress report on the UNESCO bioethics programme, especially the REDBIOETICA initiative, which concerns Latin America and the Caribbean. The topic Bioethics in Latin America and the Caribbean: Experiences and perspectives will take up the rest of the day.

On 24 November, the report of the working group on social responsibility and health* will be presented in the morning. The afternoon discussion will focus on the principle for human vulnerability and personal integrity.

On 25 November (9.30 a.m. - 12.30) the IBC will debate human cloning and international governance. The IBC was a pioneer in this field, laying the foundations of the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights (1997), which condemns cloning for human reproduction as contrary to human dignity. Since then, more than 50 countries have passed laws prohibiting cloning for reproduction. Calls are being heard, however, especially from scientists, demanding a different approach for therapeutic cloning. At the request of UNESCO’s Director-General, an IBC working group has considered this issue to determine whether the latest scientific, ethical, social, political and legal developments justify a new initiative at the international level.

In its June 2009 report**, the IBC notes that “although it may be premature for the international community to engage now in the elaboration of a new binding normative instrument aiming at harmonizing both practices and principles in this area, the issues surrounding the international governance of human cloning cannot be ignored and a focused international dialogue is crucially needed. UNESCO, with its ethical mandate that remains unique within the United Nations system and its normative achievements in the field of bioethics […], is in a privileged position to continue this reflection.” The session covering this subject in Mexico City will include presentations by Toivo Maimets, Professor of Cell Biology and Director of the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Tartu, Estonia; Abdallah Daar, Professor of Public Health Sciences and of Surgery, University of Toronto, Canada; René Frydman, Chief of Service, Gynaecology-Obstetrics and Reproductive Medicine, Antoîne-Béclère Hospital, Clamart, France; and Thomas Faunce, Associate Professor, College of Law and College of Medicine, Biology and the Environment, Australian National University, Canberra.

The afternoon session will be devoted to the IBC’s work programme for 2010-2011 before the closure by Patricia Espinosa Cantellano, Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pierre Sané, Adolfo Martinez Palomo, and the new IBC chairperson, to be elected during this session.

The European Commission-UNESCO Conference, which will follow on 26 November, aims to build the capacities of bioethics committees. It will bring together experts and members of national committees at all stages of development. The conference, organized with the financial support of the European Commission, will revolve around three major themes: emerging bioethics issues, building an international network of national bioethics committees, and the committees’ engagement in ethical debate.

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