Busquin: ethics debate essential to creation of ERA
If Research Commissioner Busquin's vision of a European Research Area (ERA) is to be realised, growing public concern about the ethical consequences of scientific research must be addressed, claimed Mr Busquin at a conference on ethics and biomedical research in Umeå, Sweden on 11 June. Defining its European ethical agenda is essential if Europe wants to project its fundamental ethical values on the world stage, said the Commissioner, who added that this requires action. 'The growing public concern about scientific progress can only be met through a rational assessment of the benefits and risks of new knowledge and technology. And through an open and structured debate on its scientific, economic, social and ethical dimensions. Scientists need to get out of their labs and actively participate in this public dialogue. Science is a social reality. It exists in and for society,' he said. Mr Busquin noted that the Commission has already taken up this issue, first by establishing the European Group on Ethics in 1991 and then, more recently, strengthening its mandate. Mr Busquin also remarked that since 1995, the Commission has spent around 25 million euro on ethics research, and claimed that 'the Commission is probably the only body that has supported ethics research at the international level'. The Commissioner was clear, however, that much still needs to be done, and he highlighted six areas where action is needed. - Refining and agreeing common ethical principles that can guide research in Europe. - Making discussions on ethical principles and guidelines part of a broad public debate. 'A democratic debate on bio-ethics will require increased public understanding of life sciences and greater dialogue with the prime actors, namely the scientists,' said Mr Busquin. - The funding and coordination of multidisciplinary research into the ethics of science conducted in Europe. 'Cross-border cooperation on research in ethics lead to a better mutual understanding and respect of ethical and cultural divergences in Europe and contribute to an informed decision-making by the democratically elected representatives in Europe,' asserted the Commissioner. - Forging more structural links between ethics committees at national and European level. - Merging the legislative activities of the Council of Europe and those of the European Union. - Turning to the future for his final area of action, Mr Busquin revealed that the Commission is currently developing a strategic vision for life sciences and biotechnology in the next decade. The Research Council, meeting on 26 June, is likely to invite the Commission to develop an action programme to improve the relationship between science and society, according to Mr Busquin. 'Ethics will be an important dimension of any such programme,' he said.