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The Committee on Bioethics

One of the objectives of the Council of Europe is to protect the individualís dignity and fundamental rights with regard to the applications of biology and medicine. To that end, the Committee on Bioethics (DH-BIO), formerly Steering Committee on Bioethics (CDBI), was set up to address ethical and legal challenges raised by developments in the biomedical field. Following the adoption of the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine (Oviedo Convention), the Committee on Bioethics is assigned the task to conduct regular re-examinations foreseen in the Convention and its Additional Protocols and to develop further its principles, as appropriate. In addition, under the supervision of the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH), the Committee on Bioethics is conducting intergovernmental work on the protection of human rights in the field of biomedicine assigned to it by the Committee of Ministers.

The Committee on Bioethics is an intergovernmental body which meets twice a year, consisting of delegations of the 47 Member States with expertise in the various aspects of bioethics. The Parliamentary Assembly, the Consultative Committee of the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data (T-PD), the Committee (Partial Agreement) on Transplantation of Organs and Tissues (CD-P-TO) and the Committee (Partial agreement) on Blood Transfusion (CD-P-TS) and other bodies of the Council of Europe engaged in related work, the European Union, Observer States and international organisations active in the field of bioethics may send representatives to take part in the discussions. In order to obtain information, the Committee on Bioethics may request the service of external consultants or scientific experts and organise conferences and symposia.

The Committee on Bioethics is assisted by a permanent secretariat, the Department of Bioethics, resorting under the Directorate General Human Rights and Rule of Law of the Council of Europe.

Legal instruments

The Committee on Bioethics has adopted a substantial set of legal instruments which serve as a reference point at the international level. The Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine is the first international legally binding instrument in the field of bioethics. It provides a framework for the protection of human rights and human dignity by establishing fundamental principles applicable to health care, medical research, transplantation and genomics. These principles are intended to be developed in greater detail in additional protocols on specific biomedical topics. As of today, four additional protocols have been adopted, respectively on the Prohibition of Cloning Human Beings, on Transplantation of Organs and Tissues of Human Origin, on Biomedical Research and on Genetic Testing for Health Purposes. Apart from these binding instruments, the Committee on Bioethics also adopted a number of Recommendations and issued several reports and white papers.

Current work

Following the adoption on 7 May 2008 of the Additional Protocol concerning Genetic Testing for Health Purposes, a Leaflet on Genetic Tests for Health Purposes has been prepared, aiming at providing general objective information on genetic tests, including their nature and the potential implications of their results. The leaflet has so far been translated into 17 languages.

Following the joint Council of Europe/United Nations Study on trafficking in organs, tissues and cells and trafficking in human beings for the purpose of the removal of organs, the Committee on Bioethics contributed to the elaboration of a draft Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs, prepared by the Committee of Experts on Trafficking in Human Organs, Tissues and Cells (PC-TO) under the authority of the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC).

Following the Symposium on the decision-making process regarding medical treatment in end-of-life situations, held on 30 November-1 December 2010, the Committee on Bioethics is preparing a Guide on the decision-making process regarding medical treatment in end-of-life situations.

Following the Seminar on Predictivity, Genetic Tests and Insurance, held on 3-4 December 2007, the Committee on Bioethics prepared and sent around for consultation a Document on Predictivity, Genetic Testing and Insurance with a view to the possible elaboration of a legal instrument.

Following the Symposium on Biobanks and Biomedical Collections, held on 19-20 June 2012, the Committee on Bioethics is currently re-examining Rec(2006)4 on Research on Biological Materials of Human Origin.

A questionnaire on prenatal sex selection has been distributed among Member States. An analysis of the replies is being carried with a view to the possible preparation of guidelines.

The Committee on Bioethics is in the preliminary stages of elaborating an Additional Protocol on the protection of the dignity and fundamental rights of persons with mental disorders with regard to involuntary treatment and placement.

As a basis for possible future activities, the Committee on Bioethics will be looking into the ethical and legal challenges raised by developments in emerging technologies, particularly neurosciences and nanotechnology. To this end, expert studies will be conducted addressing both the scientific and technical aspects and their implications for human rights.

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[1] Article 1 of the Statute of the Council of Europe stipulates that "The aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress" . To that end, the Council of Europe seeks to develop throughout Europe common and democratic principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights and other reference texts on the protection of individuals.
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[2] On 1 January 2012, following the reorganisation of intergovernmental bodies at the Council of Europe, the Committee
on Bioethics (DH-BIO) has taken over the responsibilities of the Steering Committee on Bioethics (CDBI) for the tasks
assigned by the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine as well as for the intergovernmental work on the
protection of human rights in the field of biomedicine. The reorganisation results also in creating a closer link
between the DH-BIO and the Steering Committee on Human Rights (CDDH).
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[3] The interpretation of the seminars, conferences and other events serves to facilitate communication and does not constitute an authentic record of the proceedings. Only the original speech is authentic. No liability shall be incurred by the interpreter in the exercise of his/her function