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Science and ethics
A volume on the bioethics reflections group with the contribution of MEPs
Sexual and reproductive health, post-coma unresponsiveness, ‘non-commercialisation of parts of the human body’, human enhancement by technological means are only some of the questions, marked by significant ethical implications, addressed by the scientific realm. In order to offer an insight into the ethical implications of these issues the Bioethics Reflections Group of the COMECE Secretariat has now published a volume with reflections and recommendations directed towards EU decision-makers. In all cases, “the bottom line is always human dignity” writes COMECE Secretary Piotr Mazurkiewicz in the introduction. Human activity based on research and on scientific and technological advance, “should neither violate the natural order of reality itself, which is an expression of the infinitely good and wise will of God”, Msgr. Mazurkiewicz underlines. Referring to the Oviedo Convention he said: “‘interests and welfare of the human being shall prevail over the sole interest of society or science.’’ The volume “Science and Ethics” in English and French can be downloaded by logging on www.comece.eu[>>].
Sexual and reproductive health. The concept is extremely ambiguous: “the term was coined to legitimise international action and pressure to curb demographic growth, and it is now used, in the name of health, to legitimise abortion and other highly contentious practices without being clearly defined”, the document underlines. Abortion appears unduly as a right, in contradiction with a strict interpretation of international law and European legislation and despite “the reservations made by many countries, the primary actors in international law”. The COMECE document equally underlines that “the terms entered into the official language of the European Union in matters of external relations” without clarifying the ambiguities, while they should be replaced with “‘maternal and child health’, which are “more appropriate expressions that are less subject to ideological use”. The attempt, laid down in the first part of the volume, is to examine the bearing of the concept, its objectives and aims starting with the Cairo Conference of 1994 and the Beijing Conference of 1995.
Persistent vegetative state (PVS). Since it was first developed in 1972, the term describes the unusual state that is characterised as ‘wakefulness without awareness’ and which is present in the post-coma state of a number of patients who have suffered severe brain damage. The question regards the possibility of ascertaining whether PVS patients are lacking vital activity, apart from the physical need of artificial nutrition and sometimes also respiratory aids or to keep heartbeat going. Indeed, “the state of unresponsiveness gives rise to an extremely disturbing human situation for the patient’s family, close friends and carers. It prompts questions about the sense of providing care for these people who no longer speak nor react consistently to any stimulus, and questions about the very meaning of their existence”. The document states: “The patient lying in a state of unresponsiveness is still, for all that, a human being, albeit in an extremely vulnerable situation, totally dependent on the people who are willing to care for him”. It denounces that “the decisions taken on his case will reveal something of the attitude of the society in which he is living towards its weakest and poorest members”. For this reason patients in “vegetative state” have the right to receive “all the medical care they need appropriate to the situation” alongside with the support of the family and of healthcare professionals.
Perspectives of improvement through technological tools. The issue regards the “use of biomedical technology to achieve goals, other than the treatment or prevention of disease”, according to the definition attributed to Douglas (2007). The definition is thus not merely referred to physical aspects as it includes also intellectual and mental and emotional enhancement obtained through a range of elements such as the use of caffeine, to the use of invasive drugs, prostheses, and pre-natal diagnosis for embryo selection. Such approaches raise many questions, i.e. accepting the sense of the limit of human condition and its caducity, whose possible consequences and risks are not yet foreseeable, implications regarding the dimension of social justice dimension the risk of widening the gap between rich and countries and developing countries.
Non-commercialization of the human body. Justly highlighting the development of organ transplantation, as defined in a communication released by the European Commission in 2007, must be counterbalanced by the careful monitoring of organ trafficking that has become widespread in the past decades. Appropriate tools and structures must be set up in order to ensure the free donation of organs on the part of the donor, thus curbing the development of a spiral of illegal trafficking, that is detrimental of human diginity.