Human dignity in international policy documents: A useful criterion for public policy?

Bioethics 25 (1):37-45 (2011)
Current developments in biomedicine are presenting us with difficult ethical decisions and raising complex policy questions about how to regulate these new developments. Particularly vexing for governments have been issues related to human embryo experimentation. Because some of the most promising biomedical developments, such as stem cell research and nuclear somatic transfer, involve such experimentation, several international bodies have drafted documents aimed to provide guidance to governments when developing biomedical science policy. Here I focus on two such documents: the Council of Europe's Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Dignity of the Human Being and the Additional Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Dignity of the Human Being.I argue that by using human dignity as a criterion to determine the permissibility of particular human embryo research practices, these documents cannot aid in identifying research that would be contrary to human dignity. Thus, they fail to guide public policy on embryo experimentation. Their use of human dignity as a criterion makes their task of offering guidance unfeasible because the concept as used in these documents is too vague and is applied in contradictory ways. I discuss the main goals of these documents and their claims in relation to human embryo research. I then discuss how they have influenced public policy in several countries. Finally, I show that although these Council of Europe treaties attempt to serve as public policy guides in the area of embryo research, they fail to do so
Keywords public policy  embryo research  human dignity  Council of Europe
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DOI 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2009.01737.x
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