Opinion No. 252
protocol to the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, on biomedical
1. The draft additional protocol to the Convention
on Human Rights and Biomedicine on biomedical research is the third in the
series of additional protocols to the convention, after those on the
Prohibition of Cloning Human Beings (1997) and on Transplantation of Organs
and Tissues of Human Origin (2001). The Parliamentary Assembly welcomes this
further enrichment of the convention.
2. Freedom of research is necessary for the
progress of knowledge. It is part of freedom of thought and freedom of
expression, and should therefore be recognised as a human right.
3. The development of knowledge in the field of
biomedicine, with a view to saving lives, treating disease and improving
quality of life, depends on research, including research on human beings.
4. Such research, however, has both cultural and
ethical implications. It must respect the dignity and identity of human beings
and guarantee to those who participate in it respect for their integrity and
all their other rights and fundamental freedoms.
5. The aim of the draft additional protocol to the
Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine is to increase the effectiveness of
the protection of human dignity. It does so without imposing unnecessary
barriers to the freedom of research.
6. While understanding the difficulty of agreeing
a text which states general principles without entering into details of
legislation, the Assembly wishes to draw attention to the fact that a number
of points are left open to the interpretation of the member states, which are
future parties to the protocol.
7. The Assembly welcomes the separation between
the approval of research on the basis of scientific merit (Articles 7 and 8)
and the review of its ethical acceptability (Articles 9 to 12). However, the
definition of ethical acceptability (Articles 7, 9.1, 9.2 and 11.1) remains
unclear and vague.
8. While the draft protocol focuses in Chapter III
on the independence of the ethics committee (Article 10), it does not specify
in any way its multidisciplinary composition (Article 9.2). Yet
multidisciplinarity is both a fundamental element of an ethics committee and a
strong feature which reinforces the committees independence.
9. The Assembly also insists on the protection of
persons not able to consent, and in particular persons in emergency clinical
situations (Article 19.2.ii and sub-paragraph xiii in the appendix to the
draft protocol) and therefore recalls Article 6.1 stating that research shall
not involve risks and burdens to the human being disproportionate to its
10. Article 27 (duty of care) states that if
research gives rise to information of relevance to the current or future
health or quality of life of research participants, this information must be
offered to them. Yet the question arises as to who will assess the
relevance of such information. Any given information or data may only become
relevant in the light of new scientific discoveries, while before it may not
have been considered relevant. An example of this would be advances in the
diagnosis of genetic diseases. The Assembly believes that this issue merits
11. The Assembly welcomes Article 29 which clearly
resolves the problem of research initiated in countries with strict
jurisdiction but completed in other states with less stringent rules. The
provision of this article requires member states, parties to the protocol, to
ensure that the same ethical criteria be respected for the part of the
research undertaken outside their jurisdiction.
12. The Assembly is in favour of the draft
protocol and in consequence recommends that the Committee of Ministers open it
for signature as soon as possible. It urges all states signatories and parties
to the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine to sign it on the day of its
13. The Assembly
regrets that twenty-eight out of the forty-five member states of the Council
of Europe have not yet ratified or acceded to the Bioethics Convention and
urges them to do so as soon as possible. In addition, it would encourage
Observer states also to adhere to the principles of the convention and its
on 30 April 2004 (16th Sitting) (see
report of the Committee on Culture, Science and Education, rapporteur: Ms
Westerlund Panke; and Doc. 10126,
opinion of the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee, rapporteur: Mr
Text adopted by the Assembly on 30 April 2004 (16th Sitting).