Photo: © Council of Europe
A high-level seminar on public debate  was recently organised by the Committee on Bioethics (DH-Bio) of the Council of Europe and the French presidency of the Committee of Ministers in Strasbourg.
The event held on 4 June explored why public debate on biomedicine and human rights is so important for policy makers in an era when emerging technologies have an increasing impact on our societies. The seminar addressed how public debate can create opportunities to connect public interest with public policy and to develop new governance arrangements.
“Churches have an important role to play in public debates,” said CEC Executive Secretary Rev. Sören Lenz, who participated in the seminar.
“Churches create space for encounters for people with different kinds of experience and are perceived by public as ‘experts’ in the field of ‘questions of life’. Bioethics is about questions that affect the essence of humanity and human life,” he added.
“Churches can not only engage constructively in the public debate in bioethics, but must create opportunities for real debate about controversial opinions. Bioethics issues such as beginning of life, or end of life, raise fundamental existential questions, to which the Church can respond with appropriate spiritual accompaniment and pastoral care,” said Rev. Lenz.
Liliane Maury Pasquier, president of the Parliamentary Assembly, highlighted the need for public debate saying that the legislator is no longer in tune with the public. Simon Burnall, a British expert stressed that public debates are a principle of democracy. He said that citizens discuss ethical issues and form their opinions outside the formal procedures.
As an example of how a public debate can be conducted, Jean François Delfressy, president of the French National Ethics Council, presented about the major public debate on bioethics that was launched as part of a reform of bioethics legislation.
Benjamin Hulbert of Arizoana University posed an important question, which also concerns churches and religious communities, by referring to the fundamental conception of man, “what is the human in the human rights?” he asked. Most speakers referred to the need to remain active in public debate not only in the national context, but also, in principle, at the international level.
As member of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organisations, CEC has participatory status with the Council of Europe and regularly participates with observer status in the meetings of the Bioethics Steering Committee of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.