Basic Ethical Principles in Bioethics and Biolaw is orientated towards clarifying the conceptual basis for the ethical and legal measures which direct the development and use of biotechnologies in medicine and health research. It examines the extent to which different basic ethical principles are linked to particular cultural traditions and to particular social groups; the extent to which they can be used to mediate ideas of universal value in pluralistic societies characterised by a diversity of norms, and as moral prescriptions directed towards a certain harmonisation, respecting historical and cultural differences of bioethical and biolegal policies in Europe. The investigation relies on the concerted actions of experienced researchers, sociologists and ethical theorists in different countries and local cultures in Europe.
To provide early warnings of new bioethical issues in society, and especially of popular resistance against biotechnologies, it is necessary to reflect on the principles which signify that one should respect and protect individuals in the areas of medical and biological research, health and health care. Reference is often made to the autonomy of the patient and of the subject of medical experiments in order to prevent violations of persons. It has been claimed that their 'informed' or 'presumed' consent must be assured. But, more and more, especially amongst physicians and ethicists, there is an awareness of the limitations on the principle of autonomy as such. Some individuals, including children and people with a mental handicap, are not able to protect themselves.
This does not mean that the principle of autonomy should be left aside, but it necessitates both concrete and theoretical examination of classical or more recent principles, which have validity as complementary and even, in certain cases, as alternatives to the principle of autonomy to express the foundation or the rationality of respect and responsibility towards human beings. Three principles must certainly be subject to careful scrutiny: the principles of dignity, integrity and vulnerability.
The project will involve a series of theoretical tasks, examining these issues of principle as well as certain legal frameworks; a series of concrete tasks examining the application of various ethical principles in certain bioethical fields; the establishment of a Documentation Centre for European Bioethics and Biolaw; and the publication of a newsletter which it is intended should be developed into a Journal of Bioethics and Biolaw in Europe.