Bioethics: A Humanist Approach

  • post Type / Conferences
  • Date / 7 April 2005

[b]April 22 and 23, 2005
777 UN Plaza
New York City[/b]
[b]Launch Conference of the IHEU- Appignani Humanist Center for Bioethics[/b]
The inaugural conference of the Appignani Humanist Center for Bioethics will reflect the international dimensions of current debates on stem cells research, human cloning, human and food genetic engineering, the spread of HIV/AIDS, organ procurement, euthanasia and abortion in light of recent scientific developments and their global impact. The conference aims at building awareness and where possible a consensus within the humanist community on what positions should be taken in the Center’s lobbying efforts at the UN. With its standard-setting work and unique multicultural and multidisciplinary intellectual forums, the conference will deal with these contemporary issues with a human centered approach.

  • To see the Conference Program online click here.
  • Or you can download a Word version here.
  • Now you can also download the brochure here (in .pdf format)

● [b]Stem Cell Research:[/b] President Bush sharply limited the US federal government’s funding of research on embryonic stem cells. The US administration rationalized this policy by arguing that the so-called “adult” stem cells could replace embryonic ones for therapeutic purposes. Meanwhile, Britain and Singapore passed laws intended to balance the need to constrict any moves towards human cloning with the need for stemcell research into diseases. In November of 2004 the citizens of both California and Switzerland passed referenda for state funding of stem cell research on the stem cells of human embryos. Switzerland is the first country in the world to put this controversial issue to a referendum. In California, the US Proposition 71 (Nov. 2, 2004) ballot funded $3 billion worth of research using embryonic stem cells. Proposition 71 aims at subverting President Bush’s decision to prohibit federally financed scientists from working on all but a few dozen embryonic stem-cell lines.

● [b]Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings[/b] – Debate in the UN has centered on whether the proposed convention should ban therapeutic cloning along with the cloning of human beings for reproductive purposes. The issue of how and/or whether the world should control human cloning technology has divided the UN General Assembly in 2003. The General Assembly’s legal committee voted 80 to 79 in favor of a delay in adopting a resolution on human cloning suggested by Iran on behalf of Islamic Countries. The majority of the delegates agreed to postpone any debate on the subject until February 2005. The debate evolved around two resolutions: the first called for a ban on all human cloning proposed by Costa Rica and backed by the US, and the second (supported by Belgium), called only for the prohibition of the development of cloned embryos for reproductive purposes. Those backing this proposal argue that cloning for research yields stem cells crucial for curing various diseases. This issue relates closely to assisted reproductive technologies, and is a question of human rights and family planning. On November 19, 2004 members of the United Nations abandoned the battle to prohibit human cloning. The legal committee opted instead to draw up a non-binding declaration which encourages countries to develop their own laws to regulate human cloning. The self-regulative proposal was advanced by Italy which, like the US initially backed Costa Rica resolution.

● [b]Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights[/b] – In 1997, the UNESCO General Conference adopted the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights – the only international instrument in the field of bioethics. The Declaration was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1998. UNESCO’s General Conference also adopted a resolution for its implementation thus committing the member-States to take suitable measures to promote the Declaration’s principles and encourages their implementation. The Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights is a starting point of international awareness of the requirement for ethical issues to be addressed in science and technology.

● [b]Genetic Engineering and Transhumanism[/b] – Undeniably controversial, “transhumanism” is the idea that humans can use reason to transcend their human condition limitations through genetic engineering and body enhancement. The Food and Drug Administration forbids genetic modification/enhancement (so called gene therapy for both adding enhancements or correcting genetic defects) as they speculate that scientists can never understand genomes well enough to avoid unintended consequences for future generations. By acknowledging the need for democratic control and ethical reasonableness, transhumanists” consider that banning genetic engineering would be a profound mistake.

● [b]Organ Markets[/b] Recent developments in immunosuppressive drugs and improved surgical techniques have now made it much easier successfully to transplant organs from one human body to another. These developments have led to the development of blackmarkets in human organs, with people who need (for example) kidneys to survive or to improve the quality of their lives purchasing such organs from impoverished persons in the developing world. Given the increasing need for transplant organs, should such markets be regulated and legalized? Could the success of therapeutic cloning eliminate the need to consider this option?

People often have strong emotional reactions to these issues. The prevailing assumption in humanist bioethics is that careful analysis and ethical consideration can help at least to make progress of some of these issues if not resolve all of them.

The ideas presented at the Conference will be valuable input for the general public as also help the Humanist movement evolve policy based on which lobbying at the UN could take place. The Center is focussed on creating awareness of issues relating to bioethics at the UN and within the Humanist movement. The Center is developing a programme of popular outreach on bioethics issues as well as a programme for lobbying, with a Human Centered agenda.

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