Press Release 03/2010

The German Ethics Council holds its first Parliamentary Evening

The German Ethics Council held its first Parliamentary Evening in Berlin yesterday (Wednesday)

The meeting was devoted to an exchange of views with members of parliament on the present and future work of the Council, as well as on what they saw as the principal ethical issues facing the country during the Seventeenth Legislative Term.

In his opening address, Edzard Schmidt-Jortzig, the Chair of the Ethics Council, emphasized that the Council was not only required but also concerned to ensure that, by means of its Opinions, it “makes as direct an approach as possible to the constitutional body of the Federal Republic, which can then, if appropriate, make use of its recommendations for the crafting of universally applicable instruments with the force of law”.

The Chair of the Council took this opportunity of giving a copy of the Ethics Council’s 2009 Annual Report to the President of the Bundestag (the Lower House of the German Parliament), Norbert Lammert.

In his own introductory speech, Dr Lammert noted that what the Bundestag wanted from the Ethics Council was “advice given not only as diligently as possible but also as regularly as possible”. In the selection and treatment of relevant topics, however, he personally felt that it was not so much a question of achieving the greatest possible degree of agreement. Given that consensus was “often less easy to arrive at the more demanding the subject concerned”, he considered that in cases of doubt he himself would rather the Ethics Council, having engaged in a vigorous internal debate, presented “to the Bundestag a conclusion based on the views of a more or less substantial majority of its members”.

In the subsequent course of the evening, speakers from the Council’s working groups gave an account of the current status of their deliberations. Regine Kollek reported on the discussions, soon to be completed, on the Opinion Human Biobanks for Research; Eckhard Nagel mentioned some of the core issues arising in the debates of the working group on resource allocation in healthcare; Michael Wunder gave an introduction to the programme of the working group on dementia, which had been established at the beginning of the year; and Wolf-Michael Catenhusen presented some interim results of the work in hand on human–animal mixed-species entities.

The Deputies showed great interest in the proposed topics and took advantage of this opportunity to discuss them with the members of the Council.

In the second part of the meeting, Christiane Woopen, the Deputy Chair of the Council, introduced the Council’s recommendations on the problem of anonymous relinquishment of infants. In her view, there was much more to this complex issue than might be assumed from the stock phrase “Even if only a single life can be saved, it will have been worth while” and from the over-simplifying assertion, still too often heard in the public discussion, that the right to life was more important than the right to a knowledge of an individual’s genetic origins – although that was not disputed by any member of the Ethics Council. She regretted, too, that the measures recommended by the Council for helping pregnant women and mothers in distress had not been adequately addressed in the public debate. Chief among these measures were more effective publicizing of the many different forms of assistance already available and efforts to increase the trust of potential clients in these facilities.

With a view to possible legislation, the Deputies then concentrated in their discussion with the members of the Council on the latter’s recommendation that a law be drafted providing for the confidential relinquishment of an infant with temporarily anonymous notification of the birth.