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Bioethics and research: scientific autonomy versus social responsibility. Should we lead or be led?

From the dawn of the time, discoveries have been made to improve the human condition. Today, science and biotechnology have transcended to the very essence of life itself. The inexorable urge to extend the frontiers of genetics and biology threatens to impinge on the balance between the well-being of mankind and its detriment. UNESCO, through the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights (1998) and via the International Bioethics Committee, is drafting an international instrument of bioethics based on the principles of human dignity, freedom, autonomy, justice and equity across cultures, values and religions. It emphasizes the noncommercialization of the human body, cautions against the pursuit of indiscriminate research in embryonic stem cells and cloning, gives directives in the collection, storage and treatment of genetic material, and outlaws the patenting of human genes. The voice of scientists/physicians in this arena is muffled and distant. Before binding legislation intended to protect the liberty of human beings is thrust upon us, scientists need to lead the public debate. Society, still recovering from the era of eugenics where science was heralded as being able to provide solutions for social dilemmas, wants to be fully informed of its choices. The education of the public requires strategic planning so that efforts may not be counterproductive and generate mistrust. This presentation to scientists/ clinicians who are at the cutting edge of innovative research in our field will highlight bioethical issues of mutual interest, emphasizing the applications and implications of scientific advances.

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Rubinow, A. Bioethics and research: scientific autonomy versus social responsibility. Should we lead or be led?. Arthritis Res Ther 5 (Suppl 3), 173 (2003).

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