7th Conference "New ethical challenges: Bioethics education and Biobanks"

7th Conference "New ethical challenges: Bioethics education and Biobanks", Strasbourg, France, 2005

CONFERENCE COMMUNIQUÉ approved by the Bureau of COMETH

89 participants from 40 countries took part in the 7th Conference of National Ethics Committees (COMETH) held in Strasbourg on 1-2 December 2003. The main themes of the Conference were bioethics education and biobanks. The Conference also held a brief discussion on clinical ethics committees and heard presentations of recent Opinions prepared by National Ethics Committees. The Conference concluded that:

Bioethics education

· Issues concerning bioethics are of increasing importance to society, to health care professionals and to policy makers, and such issues are increasingly debated in public;

· Such public debate is warmly welcomed, and should take place on an informed basis;

· Responding to new bioethical challenges requires contributions from, and debate between, all sectors of society. National Ethics Committees have an important role in promoting such multidisciplinary debate;

· Bioethics education is therefore increasingly important for all sectors of society. The Conference welcomed initiatives to develop bioethics education in schools, including that by the Council of Europe and for young people generally, and encouraged the further development of such initiatives;

· Two types of information are needed: broadly based information enabling people to develop their own views about the ethical implications of new developments, and technical information on specific new developments under debate;

· Members of research ethics committees, who have a central role in protecting the rights and dignity of persons who participate in research, should be adequately trained to fulfil their role and have access to appropriate continuing education and training;

· The Conference asked the Council of Europe to act as an intermediary to enable National Ethics Committees to share information on educational initiatives in bioethics and material used in that context.

Clinical ethics

· Health care professionals constantly face decisions with an ethical dimension in their work. The World Medical Association Resolution of 1999 recommended that training in medical ethics and human rights be obligatory for all medical schools; the Conference endorsed that resolution and would broaden it to include all health care professionals;

· The increasing availability of support and advice for health care professionals on clinical ethics, for example by clinical ethics committees, was welcomed. The Conference encouraged states to promote appropriate mechanisms for clinical ethics support that are appropriately resourced, and to ensure that those playing a role in such mechanisms are adequately trained for that role.

Research on biological materials

· The development of large biobanks in several countries has the potential to lead to significant medical advances in the future. The Conference highlighted the importance of developing such biobanks on an appropriate ethical and legal basis, and emphasised the importance of appropriately informing those whose biological materials are included in a biobank of the implications of their involvement;

· Research on biological material such as human tissue that has been obtained for purposes other than research (for example, that is left over after a surgical operation) has already lead to important medical advances, and is likely to lead to further advances in the future; it should therefore be supported;

· However such research must be adequately regulated, with attention paid to the ethical, legal, social and commercial implications of such research. The Conference recognised that no international legal instrument presently regulated such research, and supported the work of the Council of Europe to develop an appropriate instrument.

List of opinions and reports prepared by the National Ethics Committees


Proceedings of the Conference

Speech by Mrs Fabienne Keller, Mayor of Strasbourg, at the closing of the Conference (in French only)


Documents in progress. Reserved for intergovernmental delegations.

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