Brussels, 26 March 2002
The candidate countries need to understand more about the ethical issues in science which need to be addressed in order to participate fully in research projects under the Sixth framework programme (FP6), Barbara Rhode, head of unit for ethical issues in the European Commission, told CORDIS News.
On 17 to 19 March, representatives from 13 countries as well as from the EU Member States gathered in Bratislava, Slovakia for a conference on 'Ethics in research and science: situation and perspectives in the candidate countries'. One of the aims of the conference was to begin a process of describing the national legal regulations which are necessary in order for research projects to be ethically acceptable under FP6.
Barbara Rhode, head of unit for ethical issues of research and science in the science and society directorate told CORDIS News that some candidate countries have made more progress than others in implementing the necessary regulations.
'It is a split field,' she said, saying some are further ahead than others. She noted that many have already introduced regulations on stem cell research, embryonic research, the use of animals and human tissues. Genetics, however, remains an area as yet untouched in terms of regulation by the majority of candidate countries.
Ms Rhode added that, in order to be able to make a comprehensive assessment of how much progress has been made, the Commission still needs more information on what has been regulated and what has been legalised.
Ms Rhode thinks that some candidate countries are still slightly hesitant about the introduction on new regulations in this area, and stressed that they 'need to realise that FP6 has serious rules on ethics and procedures.'
The information available shows that all 13 candidate countries (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Turkey) have all signed up to the international convention on the protection of human rights and dignity of the human being with regard to the application of biology and medicine, some countries, notably Cyprus and Malta have not addressed individual areas of ethical concern. In contrast, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania and Poland have introduced regulations in all of the areas listed: research involving persons, involving human tissue, involving embryos, involving animals, data protection, genetically modified organisms and safety regulations in laboratories.
Ms Rhode believes that some candidate countries will fare better than some EU Member States in the creation of gene banks. Estonia has already set up such a structure, and Latvia is not far behind. Both countries are seeking to avoid the problems experienced by forerunners in gene bank creation, such as Iceland and the UK.
Discussions at the conference also touched upon the question of media coverage of science, with some participants concerned that the 'tabloids often pick up themes in a scientific context and make headlines [making it] difficult to pull it back and make it informative and unemotional.' Ms Rhode pointed out that unstable public opinion could act as a brake on legislation.
Overall, she believes that the conference made real contribution to discussion on ethics, as it opened to door to the candidate countries and kept a balance between East and West. In terms of follow up, the Commission called on the candidate countries to inform their scientists about the ethical guidelines in FP6, and suggested that if they want to hold information days, they invite a Commission representative or national expert from the EU.