Stem cell research, genetic testing, cloning: progress in the life sciences is giving human beings new power to improve our health and control the development processes of all living species. Concerns about the social, cultural, legal and ethical implications of such progress have led to one of the most significant debates of the past century. A new word has been coined to encompass these concerns: bioethics.

Since the 1970s, UNESCO's involvement in the field of bioethics has reflected the international dimensions of this debate. Founded on the belief that there can be no peace without the intellectual and moral solidarity of humankind, UNESCO tries to involve all countries in this international and transcultural discussion.

The UNESCO Bioethics Programme was created in 1993 and has been a principal priority of UNESCO since 2002. Its first major success was in 1997, when the General Conference adopted the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, the only international instrument in the field of bioethics, which was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1998.

UNESCO's ethical watch mandate justifies itself day by day and is becoming increasingly necessary in light of recent scientific developments and their far-reaching implications for society. With its standard-setting work and unique multicultural and multidisciplinary intellectual forums, the Programme has confirmed UNESCO’s leading role in bioethics at the international level.

The Bioethics Programme is part of UNESCO’s Division of the Ethics of Science and Technology in the Social and Human Sciences Sector. It is primarily responsible for the Secretariat of two advisory bodies: the International Bioethics Committee (IBC), composed of 36 independent experts, and the Intergovernmental Bioethics Committee (IGBC), composed of representatives of 36 Member States. These Committees cooperate to produce advice, recommendations and proposals that each submits to the Director-General for consideration by UNESCO’s governing bodies.

The Programme develops four main action areas:

Intellectual forum

The Programme provides an intellectual forum for multidisciplinary, pluralistic and multicultural reflection on bioethics, in particular through the IBC and the IGBC and by organizing and participating in conferences, symposiums, etc.

UNESCO intends in this way to foster both national and international debate on the major ethical issues arising from recent developments in the life sciences and their applications in order to work out ethical guidelines for the international community and Member States.

Standard-setting action

The Programme aims to define and promote a common ethical standard-setting framework that States can use in formulating and putting into practice their own policies in the field of bioethics. The Programme’s first major success in this area was the adoption of the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights by the General Conference in 1997. Recently, the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data, which is a sequel of the Universal Declaration and a modality of its implementation, was adopted unanimously and by acclamation by the General Conference at its 32nd Session, on 16 October 2003.

Advisory role and capacity-building

The Programme acts as an adviser to Member States wishing to promote reflection and debate on bioethics, to set up national ethics committees and to define national standards and/or legislation in the field. The Programme also contributes to national and regional capacity building by facilitating the establishment of networks of institutions and specialists concerned with bioethics, and encourages the establishment or strengthening of regional bioethics information and documentation centres.

The Programme endeavours to identify ethical issues for specific regions in an effort to define and implement appropriate strategies for the promotion and development of ethical reflection in these areas.

Education and awareness raising

The Programme takes part in education and awareness raising of bioethics among specialists (researchers, jurists, journalists, etc.), decision-makers, the general public and specific target groups. At university level, the UNESCO Chairs in Bioethics facilitate regional cooperation between universities and UNESCO in bioethics education. UNESCO also identifies universities that offer bioethics education in order to foster exchanges, in particular by connecting them with the Network of Institutions for Medical Ethics Education (NIMED).
Keywords: bioethics, artificial procreation, deontology, ethics of science, science and society, human cloning, reproductive cloning, therapeutic cloning, genetics, human genome, stem cell

  release_final50.jpg   UNESCO Adopts International Declaration on Human Genetic Data
Five standard-setting instruments, including the International Convention on the Preservation of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data, were adopted by the 32nd session of UNESCO’s General Conference that ended today, and which was marked by the return of the United States of America to the Organization and by the adoption of a real-growth budget of US$ 610 million for 2004-2005.  More...


  genetic50.jpg   UNESCO Adopts International Declaration on Human Genetic Data
“Every effort should be made to ensure that human genetic data and human proteomic data are not used for purposes that discriminate in a way that is intended to infringe, or has the effect of infringing human rights, fundamental freedoms or human dignity of an individual or for purposes that lead to the stigmatization of an individual, a family, or a group or communities,” reads one of the provisions of the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data, which has just been adopted by the UNESCO General Conference meeting in Paris for its 32nd Session.  More...


  genetics_sm.jpg   Human Genetic Data an international declaration soon
Human genetic data should soon have its own standard-setting instrument: an international declaration setting out the ethical principles that should govern their collection, processing, storage and use. A draft declaration is being examined by UNESCO’s General Conference, which is meeting in Paris for its 32nd session until October 17.  More...


    Meeting of Government Experts Responsible for Finalizing the Draft of the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data
UNESCO House, Paris, 25 to 27, 28 or 29 June 2003  More...


    Third Session of the Intergovernmental Bioethics Committee (IGBC)
UNESCO House (Paris), 23 and 24 June 2003  More...


    The International Bioethics Committee (IBC) received by the President of the French Republic
The thirty-six member International Bioethics Committee of UNESCO and the Director-General of the Organization, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, were received on Tuesday, 13 May 2003, by the President of the French Republic, Mr Jacques Chirac.  More...


    The International Bioethics Committee: Ten Years of Activity
The discovery of the double helix structure of DNA in 1953 by Francis Crick and James Watson, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. This fundamental breakthrough – which provided the basis of genetic engineering and biotechnology – is featured on the programme for a meeting of UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee, taking place in Paris from May 12 to 14. The Committee itself will be celebrating ten years of activity.  More...


    The IBC celebrates its 10th Birthday and the 50th anniversary of the discovery of DNA
UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee (IBC) is ten years old. A pioneer when founded in 1993, it is still, today, the only international consultative body in its field. The Committee will meet from May 12 to 14 at UNESCO Headquarters for its 10th session, which will focus on the provisional preliminary draft international declaration on human genetic data.  More...


    UNESCO to receive the 2002 SIBI Award for its work in the field of bioethics
On October 4, UNESCO will receive the SIBI award in Gijón, Spain, which the Sociedad Internacional de Bioética (SIBI) bestows every two years upon an individual, a group or an entity whose research, publications or teaching has made significant contributions to the field of bioethics.  More...



  How to contact UNESCO's Bioethics Programme ?
Bioethics Section
Division of the Ethics of Science and Technology

  Diana Body Lawson 
Bioethics Section
Division of Ethics of Science and Technology

  Sabina Colombo 
Programme Specialist
Bioethics Section
Division of Ethics of Science and Technology

  Henk ten Have 
Division of Ethics of Science and Technology

  Orio Ikebe 
Assistant Programme Specialist (temporary)
Bioethics Section
Division of Ethics of Science and Technology

  Caroline Munier 
Associate Expert
Bioethics Section
Division of Ethics of Science and Technology

  Léonie Ruthberg-Treguer 
Documentation and Secretariat
Bioethics Section
Division of Ethics of Science and Technology

IBC Documents
IGBC Documents
Other Documents
Database of Bioethics Institutions
 Eleventh Session of the International Bioethics Committee (IBC) - week of 23rd August 2004 More...