Bioethics forms an important part of the European Commission's RTD activities. Under the Fourth RTD Framework Programme (1994-1998), bioethics was extended to the three programmes in the field of Life Sciences and Technologies, namely: Biotechnology, Biomedicine and Health, and FAIR (Fisheries and Agriculture Research, including Agro-Industry, Food Technologies, Forestry, Aquaculture and Rural Development).
All three programmes had an ELSA (ethical, legal and social aspects) area which, together with related areas (public perception and socio-economic impacts of biotechnology, medical ethics) represented roughly 2% of the total funding allocated to the Life Sciences and Technologies domain. Between 1995 and 1998, the European Union contributed about ECU 30 million to research activities on the societal issues concerning regulation and desirability of the life sciences and technologies. Support was also provided for accompanying measures such as financial assistance to important conferences on ethical issues.
A transdisciplinary approach was adopted for promoting research on issues such as:
- Legal protection of biotechnology inventions, biodiversity and regulatory frameworks for biological research;
- Fundamental and applied values in biomedicine, embryo and fetus protection, personal data protection, resource allocation in health care, data bases and ethics committee;
- Animal welfare, food safety, pesticides and crop protection, consumer attitudes and sustainable agriculture and fisheries.
The ELSA implementing unit within the European Commission was also charged with supervising the ethical review of all scientific proposals by local ethics committees, in particular proposals using embryonic or foetal tissue. Alternative methods to the use of animals were encouraged whilst funding of research on human germline gene alteration or human reproductive cloning was forbidden.
Further information on ELSA is available on this website and on the Europa server. The ELSA approach is extended to all RTD programmes under the Fifth Framework Programme (1998-2002), in particular the First Thematic Programme: Improving the quality of life and management of living resources.