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The 11th Forum of National Ethics Councils (NEC) Brdo, 28–29 February 2008 - Opening Address by the Slovenian Minister of Health

Esteemed guests, ladies and gentlemen,

In the name of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Slovenia, it gives me great pleasure to welcome respected guests, representatives of the European Commission and participants to the 11th Forum of National Ethics Councils, as well as to the Republic of Slovenia.

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. Consideration is necessary in order to resolve potential conflicts implied by different interests, especially the interests of the individual, which can be in sharp contrast with the interests of society. Even though some ethical issues remain open forever and final solutions are oftentimes not possible to achieve, common starting points can be adopted, and at least partial answers and recommendations on how one should act in a certain situation can be provided. Society needs such guidelines in order to function.

At the same time the Forum of National Ethics Councils is also an opportunity for the state to present its activities in the area of ethics. The activities of the Slovenian National Medical Ethics Committee are very visible in Slovenian society. The committee performs its tasks in the area of the medical profession and biomedical sciences, and also plays a role in informing the society and its position on ethical issues. The committee has played an important role in shaping public opinion in the medical field, as well as in the general public. Appearances by its representatives in the media have been numerous and substantial through the years, both when asked by journalists to participate and when acting on their own initiative; therefore I would like to commend and thank them for the work they have done.

The Slovenian Medical Ethics Committee has also made an important contribution to drafting acts opening some fundamental ethical issues, especially in the case of the organ transplantation act, the infertility treatment and procedures of biomedically-assisted procreation act, the genetic technology act, and the patient rights act. It has also had a decisive influence on some important provisions of the alternative medicine act. The Slovenian committee formulated ethical guidelines for the treatment of patients in chronic vegetative states and proposed ethical guidelines for the treatment of dying patients. Ten years ago, it also provided its standpoint on euthanasia and medical assistance to suicide.

Traditionally, the medical profession has a sense of obligation for the health and wellbeing of patients, and must therefore reconsider and redefine its role in health care time and again, checking the nature of its own values and to striving to observe the provisions of international human rights legislation in practice. It was the darkest periods in Europe's history that led to the most positive of events: the development of new standards of human rights in the area of biomedicine accepted by the entire international community. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms were followed four decades later by the Oviedo Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. The accompanying debates and the legal and ethical documents created simultaneously had a particularly profound influence on newly emerging democracies and their legislation in the making. In this respect Slovenia was probably somewhat different, because it already had an excellent tradition in the area of ethics. This is undoubtedly due to the 40 years of activity of the National Medical Ethics Committee and its predecessors.

Ethical assessment and selection in biomedicine is a dynamic process that responds to the development of society and its expectations. It requires the incessant confrontation of different opinions, following and assessing practices, producing recommendations and, when necessary, re-evaluating existent norms; therefore European collaboration is necessary, and meetings such as the 11th Forum of National Ethics Councils certainly represent an important step in that direction.

I thank you for your attention and wish you successful and creative work.


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Date: 28.02.2008