Press Release 12/2011

The German Ethics Council holds a Parliamentary Evening in Berlin

Yesterday (Wednesday), the German Ethics Council invited the members of the German Bundestag to Berlin for the second of this year’s Parliamentary Evenings, to introduce its latest Opinion, Human–animal mixtures in research, and to discuss with the deputies the subjects currently on the Council’s agenda, Intersexuality and Dementia and self-determination.

In his welcoming address, Edzard Schmidt-Jortzig, Chair of the German Ethics Council, emphasized that the Council wished in this way to satisfy the intensely felt need for exchanges and communication between itself and the Bundestag. He also reminded those attending that the term of office of the first members of the German Ethics Council expired in April 2012 and that new appointments would then have to be made.

In his own opening speech, Eduard Oswald, the Vice-President of the German Bundestag, expressed the thanks of all members of the Bundestag to the Ethics Council for its work. The Council’s independent and soundly based advice helped them to get to the heart of the issues concerned more quickly and hence to reach a conclusive assessment. Quoting the English philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell’s adage “Even when all the experts agree, they may well be mistaken”, Mr Oswald encouraged the Ethics Council to continue its wide-ranging and critical deliberations and its policy of facilitating the expression of divergent views in its Opinions.

Next, Wolf-Michael Catenhusen, as spokesperson for the Council’s internal working group, presented the key elements of the Opinion and the Ethics Council’s recommendations on approaches to human–animal mixtures and their treatment. The ensuing discussion centred on issues such as the need for statutory regulation and the criteria that should be applied in the evaluation of research projects involving human–animal mixtures.

Michael Wunder, the spokesperson for the working group on intersexuality, reported on the current status of the relevant deliberations. With regard to the Federal Government’s request for the presentation of an Opinion on the subject and for continuation of the dialogue with intersex individuals and their self-help organizations, the Ethics Council had so far already carried out a survey with intersex people, academics and professionals working in the field, held a public hearing, and conducted a highly appreciated online discourse. The Ethics Council was now drawing up an Opinion, which, based on the current situation of intersex persons, would address matters such as the legitimacy of medical interventions, inappropriate healthcare provision, civil status legislation and the possibility of financial compensation for harm sustained; the Opinion was due for publication early in 2012. In the ensuing debate, the parliamentarians expressed particular interest in the involvement of the parents of intersex individuals in the process of dialogue, the principle of equality of treatment and the prohibition of discrimination. Another concern was whether the Ethics Council’s recommendations extended also to the field of sport.

Michael Wunder reported in addition on the status of the Council’s deliberations on the issue of dementia and self-determination. A particular aim of the planned Opinion was to establish the potential capabilities of dementia sufferers and to reinforce such self-determination as was still possible even at advanced stages of the disorder. Again, it was appropriate not only to consider dementia as a disease, but also to take account of the psychosocial situation of sufferers and their families. The ensuing questions put by the deputies addressed possible points of contact with the legal provisions on advance directives, the funding of assisted living communities and payment for care by family members.