All countries, no matter how economically developed, face challenges when advancements in all fields of science and technology confront the diversity of values of their communities. In this regard, all communities and states require some capacity for reflecting on the ethical aspects and the human and environmental consequences of these advancements so as to ensure a consensus on the fundamental ethical grounds for related policies and actions.
Each country needs to establish and strengthen its infrastructure in bioethics and ethics of science and technology to deliver sound, informed, more acceptable and well-adapted public policies, reflecting the needs and concerns of its society and all its members.
The need to reflect on these ethical dimensions and the desire to develop informed and transparent public policies, that can enhance public health, has led to the establishment of various forms of bioethics committees in many parts of the world.
In this context, UNESCO has initiated the Assisting Bioethics Committees (ABC) programme. ABC aims to accompany a Member State that has decided to reinforce its bioethics infrastructure. In the first phase, UNESCO supports the Member State with the creation of a national bioethics committee. In the second phase, UNESCO provides support to the committee for a duration of 3 years.
The ABC programme is a key element of UNESCO’s capacity building efforts in bioethics and ethics of science and technology.
To date, UNESCO has provided support for the establishment of 19 committees in 19 Member States.
What is a National Bioethics Committee?
There are different models of National Bioethics Committees established by Member States.
The Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights advocates for the establishment of independent, multidisciplinary and pluralist ethics committees at the national, regional, local or institutional levels. Such a committee shall advise policy makers and the government on any (bio-)ethics matter of importance to the nation, and encourage a public debate on bioethics and ethics of science and technology to ensure that public debate is well-informed and inclusive.
National Bioethics or Ethics Committee address ethical dimensions of the health sciences, the life sciences, innovative health policies, and advancements in science, technology and innovation (STI). Committee members meet to address issues that are not simply factual, but are profoundly normative. They reflect upon responsible and reasonable decisions, policies and actions to be taken in their specific cultural and moral diversity.
How does the ABC programme work?
Through the ABC programme, UNESCO helps Member States to reinforce their infrastructure in bioethics and ethics of science and technology in three stages:
- Exploration stage: technical advice is given, and an exploratory mission is undertaken in order to assist the Member State in the initial stages of the process of setting up a National Bioethics Committee.
- Establishment of the committee: a National Bioethics Committee can be established typically by a law or decree. This will involve identifying members, establishing the first by-laws, and making provisions to finance/supply a secretariat.
- Technical support: once the National Bioethics Committee is established, UNESCO and the Committee sign a Memorandum of Understanding setting the terms for three years of technical support provided by UNESCO.
- Guide 1: Establishing Bioethics Committees, also available in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, Spanish and Turkish
- Guide 2: Bioethics Committees at Work: Procedures and Policies, also available in Chinese, French, Russian, Spanish and Turkish
- Guide 3: Educating Bioethics Committees, also available in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish
- Guide 4: Bioethics committees and public policy, also available Spanish
- Guide 5: Bioethics committees and public engagement, also available in Spanish
- National bioethics committees in action
- Strengthening National and Regional Ethics Infrastructure. Building capacities in bioethics and ethics of science and technology, also available in French and Spanish
For more information, please contact:
Chief of Bioethics and Ethics of Science and Technology Section
Social and Human Sciences Sector - UNESCO
Tel.: +33 (0) 1 45 68 49 94
Bioethics and Ethics of Science and Technology Section
Social and Human Sciences Sector - UNESCO
Tel: +33 (0) 1 45 68 12 31