The European Convention for the protection of human rights and dignity of the human being with regard to the application of biology and medicine (ETS No. 164) of 1997, or the “Oviedo Convention,” promotes the protection of human rights in biomedicine at a transnational level. The Oviedo Convention is a framework instrument meaning it contains general principles intended to be translated into domestic law by signatories. The Oviedo Convention contains many novel principles and requirements built on principles and rights contained in “previous international human rights treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) of 1950 (e.g. the rights to life, to physical integrity and to privacy, the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment and of any form of discrimination).” The Oviedo Convention is inspired by and grounded in the rights to life, physical integrity and privacy, and prohibition of discrimination enacted through the ECHR. For the European Court of Human Rights, the Oviedo Convention has been used as an interpretative framework to elucidate and better understand the scope and significance of these rights in the context of biomedicine.

The significance of these constituent human rights for the Oviedo Convention cannot be overstated. As a whole the Convention is designed to “protect the dignity and identity of all human beings and guarantee everyone, without discrimination, respect for their integrity and other rights and fundamental freedoms with regard to the application of biology and medicine” (Article 1). Across the Convention certain values and ends are explicitly upheld and protected, while others can be inferred through specific requirements. Above all, human dignity and the primacy of the patient are key to the Convention:

“The notion of human dignity is clearly the bedrock of the Oviedo Convention. According to the Explanatory Report, “the concept of human dignity (...) constitutes the essential value to be upheld. It is at the basis of most of the values emphasised in the Convention.” Recalling the history of the instrument, one of the members of the drafting group recognizes that “it was soon decided that the concept of dignity, identity and integrity of human beings/individuals should be both the basis and the umbrella for all other principles and notions that were to be included in the Convention.””