Social Sciences Research shows that it is known that in the second half of the 20th Century, rapid unprecedented development in scientific knowledge and technological development led to crucial changes in most societies, bringing about transformation in paradigms of global and social interest.
Presently, it is important that together, we face these new issues at stake while we become fully aware of the implications of human and social scientific research and their technological applications. It is also interesting to note the increase in number of bioethical movements in the 21st Century, and the fact that in the field of the life sciences, it is recognized that only ethics will set the limits between what is feasible and what is acceptable, for the respect of human dignity must take prudence over any other consideration. This is inherent in the terms and spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The social and ethical dimensions of science and technology are central to UNESCO’s mandate, with a priority concern for the most vulnerable segments of society. In this regard, bioethics identifies and addresses the ethical dilemmas that scientific advances and their application may pose to the integrity and rights of human beings and communities, both for present and future generations. It addresses the moral and ethical issues arising from clinical practice, medical and biological research, resource allocation and access to biomedical technology.
It is a field that covers both the ethical and legal and the social and cultural dimensions of the life sciences and the technologies which are associated with them. It plays a role in ensuring respect for human dignity and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedom.
Van Rensselaer Potter at the University of Wisconsin and Andre Hellegers at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics independently coined the term “bioethics” in the early 1970s to describe different concepts, and its exact definition remains contested today. However, it is nonetheless possible to discern the growth of a professional bioethics industry and discipline intimately tied to cultural mores and new advances in biomedical technology and techniques.
The basic principles include the tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and those that were established through the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights (adopted unanimously and by acclamation by the UNESCO General Conference in 1997 and endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 1998).
i. Respect for human dignity.
ii. Respect for autonomy and freedom of choice – in particular with the need for free, express and informed consent.
iii. The primacy of individual well-being and integrity of the person.
iv. The principle of equality and non-discrimination.
v. The principle of justice and equity.
vi. The principle of solidarity (involving what mechanisms to use to ensure that researches cover all diseases).
vii. The principle of precaution and responsibility.
viii. The principle of right to privacy.
ix. The principle of right to ownership.
x. The principle of non-commercialization of the human body.
Ghana’s Bioethics Committee Bioethics as a concept is not new to the Ghanaian public because of the inherent ethical and moral nature of the society where in the past, public opinion held sway in the general behaviour of the people. However, bioethics as a discipline is only known within the circle of academic and research institutions where aspects of it are taught as an examinable subject and also used in skills training in medical research. Within the last few decades, things have changed in our society, partly blameable to globalisation and partly to urbanisation, and consequently the inherent discipline and public spiritedness that characterised the Ghanaian as a person and as the society has gone.
As a result of new advances in research in biology, biochemistry, genetics and medicine in which heritable nature of living organisms are known and can be tampered with and even changed to create novel organisms and their products including new cells, tissues and organs, ethical and moral decisions in research have come under the international spotlight and scrutiny and have become very critical. The good intentions in many of the new research breakthroughs are at risk of misapplication, if proper controls are not put in place and the technologies get into the hands of charlatans, terrorists and even bio-pirates to create things that will harm people and make the world unsafe.
UNESCO, through its International Bioethical Committee (IBC) and the Inter-governmental Bioethical Committee (IGBC), has invoked the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights (1997 and 1998), to provide inspiration to Parties, in their efforts to embrace the essential principles of bioethics, human dignity, freedom, justice, equity and solidarity, to draft legislation and or regulations.
UNESCO enjoined Member States, including Ghana, to set up National Bioethics Committees to discuss, inform and offer useful suggestions to opinion leaders, the general public and other practitioners in the area of Bioethics.
In response to the General Conference decision taken in 2005, the Ghana National Commission for UNESCO brought together people from selected institutions, civil society and research institutions to form the core membership of the Ghana National Bioethics Committee (GNBC)