Rights against research

Bioscience get short shrift in UNESCO document

By C Balaji
Published: Saturday 31 December 2005

-- The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) came out with a controversial declaration in October 2005, claiming to protect human respect from advanced bio-science research. UNESCO's "Universal Declaration on Bio-ethics and Human Rights", released in Paris, is its third text on bioethics. It "addresses ethical issues related to medicine, life sciences and associated technologies as applied to human beings". The declaration attempts to fill a void caused by the growing need for international ethical standards generated by biomedical research and other activities - biomedical research projects and experiments, and international transfers of embryos, stem cells, organs, tissue and cells, DNA samples and other genetic data - that are conducted in the absence of a regu-latory framework.

Conservative Christian groups opposed to stem cell research, have welcomed the declaration. A press release of the London-based public interest group, the Comment On Reproductive Ethics, which focuses on ethical dilemmas surrounding human reproduction, says: "We are delighted that the document uses the term 'human being' rather than 'persons' throughout the text. When coupled with a recommendation that nothing contrary to human dignity or human rights should be promoted, this surely is a clear warning to those involved in genetic manipulation, cloning and the like."

But the declaration has evoked strong protests from researchers and academics working on bio-ethics and biotechnology. The declaration will hamper crucial medical research and public policies, experts say. They have accused UNESCO of meddling in the domain of the World Health Organization, which supports stem cell research.

According to the declaration, member states are prohibited from following health policies that might undermine individual liberties. But critics say if the declaration existed at the time of the SARS epidemic, it would not have been possible to control it, since regulation involved impinging on such rights through quarantine. They want a resolution to be passed against the declaration.

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