UNESCO Declarations on Bioethics and Human Rights

In 1993 the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established a Bioethics Programme within the Division of the Ethics of Science and Technology, in the Social and Human Sciences Sector. The Programme is led by the International Bioethics Committee (IBC), consisting of 36 outside experts, and the Intergovernmental Bioethics Committee (IGBC), consisting of representatives from 36 member states.

The Bioethics Programme has sponsored three nonbinding international agreements:

1. The Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights was adopted unanimously by the UNESCO General Conference in 1997 and ratified by the UN General Assembly in 1998. The following year, UNESCO approved guidelines for the implementation of the Declaration. It calls for member states to undertake specific actions, such as the prohibition of "practices which are contrary to human dignity, such as reproductive cloning of human beings." It also calls on the IBC to study "practices that could be contrary to human dignity, such as germline interventions."

2. The International Declaration on Human Genetic Data was adopted by UNESCO in 2003. The declaration is intended “to ensure the respect of human dignity and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the collection, processing, use and storage of human genetic and proteomic data, and of the biological samples from which they are derived, in keeping with the requirements of equality, justice and solidarity, while giving due consideration to freedom of thought and expression, including freedom of research.”

3. The Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights was adopted by UNESCO in 2005 after two years of development. Using a human rights framework, the Declaration established normative principles in fifteen areas, including human dignity and human rights; equality, justice and equity; and protecting future generations. For example, the member states agreed that, “The impact of life sciences on future generations, including on their genetic constitution, should be given due regard.” These principles cover a wider range of issues than the previous two bioethics Declarations. The Declaration also contains a resolution on the application and promotion of the principles.

Last modified December 1, 2005