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Starting a Debate with Women scientists from Post- communist Countries on Ethical Issues

Final Report Summary - ENWISE ETHICS (Starting a Debate with Women scientists from Post- communist Countries on Ethical Issues)

The main objective of the project was to identify together with women researchers from the post-communist countries, namely in the Central Eastern European countries and in the Baltic States, if there is a gender dimension concerning science-related ethical issues, like for example sensitive questions brought into the forefront of interest by the advance of biotechnological methods. It was also the intention of the project to assess whether there exists a specific sensibility related to the above issues in the post-communist countries, with special regard to the fact that the political system restricted the approach to sensitive information and that the general atmosphere during the communist regime did not allow to publicly discuss ethical problems in any areas of life (e.g. religious matters, euthanasia, genetics, etc.).

The project addressed one of the specific activities planned under section 3 of the terms of reference of the ENWISE expert group: a workshop with women scientists involved in ethical issues to express their views on a few selected topical issues such as, for instance, stem cells embryo, etc.

The workshop was also connected to three other aims of the science and society action plan. The specific objectives were to bring the ethical aspects of biomedical research into the forefront of interest in Hungary, but also in the other countries, with the aim to show both to women and decision makers what is at stake and call the attention of the women scientists in the post-communist countries to become more active and express their opinion.

During a workshop organised by the project, participants stressed that science is developing at a much faster rate than domestic legislation and regulations are able to keep up with, especially in the ENWISE countries, where the transitional shift from communist regimes to market economies resulted in a radical transformation of previous political, cultural, socioeconomic and legal environments.

Therefore, a stronger process of democratisation is required, in particular in the bioethical field, where civil society, science and politics are interconnected, where women - and in particular women scientists - could play an important role. A bottom-up approach and the consideration of public opinion were seen as the best means for the correct handling of bioethical issues. Transparency in bioethical issues should also be ensured by a better representation of different stakeholders (women, social scientists, etc.) in ethics committees and by introducing the role and tasks of these committees to the general public.

Participants underlined, with concern, the lack or the insufficiency of regulation, and of public control, on the outsourcing of ethically sensitive biomedical research in the ENWISE countries. Yet, in the area of the exchange of genetic information, the responsibility of scientists / doctors and the position of women in related decision-making should also be considered. Concerns about the potential abuse of genetic data for national interests, or for the stigmatisation of minorities, were also expressed during the debates.

Scientists, and in particular women scientists, should pay more attention to the interrelation and interaction of gender and ethics in new scientific developments. Scientists should not exclude themselves from the education of the general public, nor the media, the role of which was indicated as a priority. Science journalists should provide accurate information in the dissemination of scientific research and should participate in promoting adequate public information campaigns.

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