A substantial set of legal instruments and guides have been developed by the Council of Europe which serve as a reference point at 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 genetics. It is complemented by additional protocols addressing specific fields and forming a conventional system with the Convention.

Non legally binding instruments have also been developed addressing human rights challenges raised by specific applications such as biobanking or the processing of health-related data for insurance purposes.

Finally comprehensive guides were published on a number of issues and with the intention of facilitating the implementation of the principles enshrined in the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine (Oviedo Convention, ETS No. 164, 1997). The purpose of these guides is to serve as a useful tool for informing the public and training professionals.