Rapid breakthroughs in biology, medicine and genetic engineering have led many governments to recognize the need for legal and ethical regulations guaranteeing that these sciences do not violate people’s rights or dignity.
One kind of regulatory approach is a multinational bioethical convention saying what countries should and should not do in biology, medicine and genetic engineering. Europe has such a convention, which the Council of Europe signed in 1997.
Poland took part in the deliberations that led to the convention and signed it in 1999.
But parliament has yet to ratify it.
With little opposition to the convention from members of parliament, and with the Roman Catholic Church having no problem with it, the Tusk government is moving to try to get it ratified. It will ask a panel of experts to study the convention. If the experts have no problem with it, the government will ask
Poland has already adopted some of the convention’s regulations. For example, it has laws governing organ and tissue transplants.
However, it has not passed laws on many other issues the convention deals with.
An example of an issue that the convention covers but that Polish law does not is in-vitro fertilization, or fertilization of a human egg in a laboratory setting. The convention requires a legal contract on the procedure between the company that provides the reproductive cells and the medical facility that carries out the in-vitro fertilization process.
The full name of the convention is: “The convention of the protection of human rights and human dignity against abuses of biology and medicine.” The overarching principle of the convention is: “The interest and the good of human beings must prevail over the interests of society and science.”
Besides in-vitro fertilization, the convention covers medical experiments on humans, transplants, genetic manipulation and the treatment of human fetuses, egg cells and sperm cells.
As soon as a nation’s parliament ratifies the convention, it becomes law in that country.
There is little or no opposition to the convention in the Polish parliament.
Church leaders say Poland needs regulations on what science and medicine ought to be able to do and not do with respect to human beings.
Both Archbishop Jozef Zycinski of Lublin and Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow have said it is too dangerous to leave issues such as cloning to the consciences of physicians and scientists. Regulations are needed, they say – and the convention would do that.
“Now nothing is regulated,” said Krakow Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz.
Jaroslaw Gowin, the deputy leader of the ruling Civic Platform Party, said he will assemble a panel of experts to look into whether the convention covers all of the bioethical issues that Poland needs to address. If the experts say it does, the government will move toward ratification.
“Poland must prepare itself for ratification of the bioethical convention because there exists a scandalous 10-year delay,” he said. “It is high time that Poland took a decision on this issue.”
Rafal Grupinski, a key aide to Prime Minister Donald Tusk, said Tusk wanted an expert appraisal of the consequences of Poland ratifying the convention.
Grupinski noted that “the convention does not cover such touchy issues as abortion or euthanasia” so Poland could pass laws on those subjects without being in conflict with the convention.