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EC-UNESCO Conference: Joint Action for Capacity-building in Bioethics (JACOB)

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The bioethical imperative

Are the medical and biotech companies behaving ethically when they develop new products and applications across the world? One global initiative, with EU backing, wants to help ensure that they are.

Health

As medical science and biotechnology advance, there is a need to address ethical considerations and outline policies to preserve them. This can be accomplished under the discipline of bioethics, which concerns itself with the philosophy and ethics of abortion, euthanasia, genetic engineering, organ donation, biological hazards, and more. In November 2009, the European Community and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) successfully hosted a conference, the 'EC-Unesco conference: joint action for capacity-building in bioethics' (JACOB). The conference helped build the professional and administrative capacities of the newly established National Bioethics Committees (NBCs) in developing countries. It promoted an international ethics network that brings together newly created NBCs from Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, and other regions together with experienced committees from Europe. Held in Mexico City, the event brought together more than 100 participants representing national bioethics bodies, as well as regional and international organisations in the field of bioethics. The participants made great strides in sharing knowledge on establishing and operating NBCs, as well as finding ways to improve collaboration in the future. The main objective of the conference was to facilitate working linkages for knowledge and experience sharing among NBCs from around the world. This represents a major step towards reinforcing bioethics capacities of countries that have recently established or will establish such national bioethics bodies. In effect, JACOB has already made important contributions to increasing national bioethics capacities of countries worldwide. This has enabled these nations to be at the forefront of protecting human rights against threats or challenges posed by scientific and technological advances. Numerous experts were invited to the conference to share knowledge regarding best practices in running NBCs; they encouraged the development of procedures and policies for bioethics committees and promoted effective engagement in policymaking. In selecting the participants of the conference, special attention was paid to the balance between experienced and the newly established committees. This ensured that the latter benefit fully from the experiences that older NBCs have accrued, including working methods, problems identified and lessons learned. Conference debates revealed that bioethics is increasingly prominent on the political agenda of governments around the world. In addition, the conference summarised the ideas generated during the sessions in end reports, where participants reaffirmed the indispensible role that national bioethics committees play in shaping and guiding bioethics discourse and practices at national level. Many of the findings and presentations are published on the conference website. Unesco is also in the final stages of publishing a compilation of papers, submitted by the participants based on their presentations. These represent a substantive volume of information covering the major themes of the conference. By empowering NBCs to adopt cutting-edge policies and procedures, JACOB has promoted the health and well-being of nations worldwide through better ethical practices within the medical and biotech industries.

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