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Comprehensive ethical and scientific consideration required

The two-day meeting of the 11th Forum of National Ethics Councils was concluded today at Brdo pri Kranju, where the members of national forums and the European Group on Ethics (EGE), an advisory body to the European Commission on ethical questions in science and biotechnology, addressed the issue of ethics and science. "The development of science, the medical profession and society as a whole presents us with ever new ethical issues which require comprehensive ethical and scientific consideration, interdisciplinary debate, explanation of standpoints and open dialogue, because only such action can lead to the best possible results for the patient, doctor and society at a given moment," pointed out the host of the meeting, Health Minister Zofija Mazej Kukovič, in her opening address.

"Slovenia has an excellent tradition in the area of biomedical ethics, since its ethical commission is among the oldest in the world," mentioned France Cukjati, President of the National Assembly, in his address. Slovenia's commitment to ethics is further reflected in the fact that it was among the first five countries to ratify the Oviedo Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. According to Dr Danilo Türk, President of the Republic of Slovenia, taking an ethical stance towards these issues is a commitment of science and scientists.

The meeting participants addressed the confrontation between the individual's rights and freedoms and the interests of society. They discussed measures and treatment at the end of life, and responsible research in biology and medicine. Both themes belong among the priority ethical issues in the European area. Close attention was paid to the cloning of food-producing animals, which is subject to the latest EGE positions. So far, ethics has been against such interventions in animals. Not only being unnecessary, they are also considered generally unnatural and as such unacceptable. As pointed out by Jože Trontelj, Chair of the Slovenian National Medical Ethics Committee, such discussions are welcome since they raise public awareness and sensitivity to man's generally too selfish attitude towards the rest of the living world.

The discussion on ethical pitfalls of the use of biomedical methods to improve the characteristics and abilities of human beings was met with great interest. The same applies to the code of ethics regarding responsible practices in the area of nanotechnology and nanoscience, which was recently adopted by the European Commission and publicly presented for the first time at Brdo. Dr Božidar Voljč and Dr Didier Sicard, members of the Slovenian and French ethical committees, called attention to the severe ethical problems of public health in the European region, where differences in public health care funds per capita reach a ratio of 1:30.

Ethical support to the terminally ill was addressed on the initiative of the Slovenian National Medical Ethics Committee. The participants supported the recommendation that people with severe suffering have the possibility of palliative sedation. This measure does not shorten life and is therefore not euthanasia, but has the features of common medical treatment. Dr Inez de Beaufort presented the Dutch experience with this type of aid. According to Dr Trontelj, palliative sedation and other measures of palliative therapy render any reasons for euthanasia practically groundless.


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Date: 29.02.2008