The German Ethics Council
In accordance with its legal mandate, the German Ethics Council shall address the questions of ethics, society, science, medicine and law and the probable consequences for the individual and society that result in connection with research and development, in particular in the field of the life sciences and their application to humanity. Its duties include informing the public and encouraging discussion in society, preparing opinions and recommendations for political and legislative action for the Federal Government and the German Bundestag as well as cooperating with national ethics councils and comparable institutions of other states and of international organisations.
The German Ethics Council is independent in its work and bound only by the mandate given to it by the Ethics Council Act. The 26 members of the German Ethics Council shall exercise their office in person and independently. They may not belong either to the Federal Parliament or the Federal Government or to a Federal States’ Parliament or Government respectively. Moreover, the members of the Council shall represent scientific, medical, theological, ethical, social, economic and legal concerns in a particular way and ensure a variety of ethical approaches and a pluralist spectrum of opinions.
In order to inform the public and encourage discussion in society, the Council organises public events and provides information about its activities on its website, in its newsletter and annual report. Besides a series of public evening events called “Bioethics Forum” and its annual meeting – both taking place in Berlin – the Council also organises public events outside of Berlin.
The German Ethics Council chooses the topics for its work programme on the basis of its own determination. However, the Council may also work on a certain topic on request of the Federal Government or the German Bundestag. So far, the Federal Government has asked the German Ethics Council in three cases to prepare an Opinion.
The plenary meetings of the Council are held once every month in Berlin. These meetings can be held publicly or in closed session. In order to prepare its Opinions, the Council establishes working groups that prepare draft texts to be submitted to the plenary meeting for discussion and eventually presented for adoption by the Council. Also, if deemed necessary, the Council may invite external experts to its working groups. However, this cooperation is limited in time and not equivalent to membership in the Council. Consequently, the cooperation with the respective expert ends after publication of the Opinion.
Opinions of the German Ethics Council are published. If, in the drafting process, members have a dissenting view, they may express this in the Opinion.
In accordance with the Ethics Council Act, the Council shall report to the German Bundestag and the Federal Government once every year about its activities and inform about the current societal debate. The annual report – as well as all other publications - is available on the Council’s website.
Act on the Establishment of the German Ethics Council (Ethics Council Act - EthRG)
of 16 July 2007 (German version in: BGBl. I p. 1385); entered into force on 1 August 2007
The translation of the Ethics Council Act (Gesetz zur Einrichtung des Deutschen Ethikrats) into English is intended solely as a convenience to the non-German-reading public. The English version is not binding and has no legal effect for compliance or enforcement purposes.
Establishment of the German Ethics Council
An independent council of experts shall be formed, bearing the name German Ethics Council.
(1) The German Ethics Council shall pursue the questions of ethics, society, science, medicine and law that arise and the probable consequences for the individual and society that result in connection with research and development, in particular in the field of the life sciences and their application to humanity. Its duties shall include but not be limited to the following:
- informing the public and encouraging discussion in society, engaging the various social groups;
- preparing Opinions and recommendations for political and legislative action;
- cooperation with national ethics councils and comparable institutions of other states and of international organizations.
(2) Every year, the German Ethics Council shall hold at least one public event on questions of ethics, in particular in the field of the life sciences. In addition, it may hold further public events, hearings and public meetings.
(3) The German Ethics Council shall prepare its Opinions on the basis of its own determination, at the request of the German Bundestag or the German Federal Government. It shall forward its Opinions to the German Bundestag and the Federal Government for their information before publication.
(4) The German Ethics Council shall report in writing to the German Bundestag and the Federal Government at the end of each calendar year on its activities and the current state of the social debate.
The German Ethics Council shall be independent in its work and bound only by the mandate given to it by this Act. The members of the German Ethics Council shall exercise their office in person and independently.
(1) The German Ethics Council shall be composed of twenty-six members specializing in scientific, medical, theological, philosophical, ethical, social, economic and legal concerns. Its members shall include academics from the above disciplines, and in addition it shall include persons of repute who are particularly familiar with ethical questions of life sciences.
(2) The German Ethics Council shall contain representatives of a variety of ethical approaches and a pluralist spectrum of opinion.
(3) The members of the German Ethics Council may not belong either to a legislative body of the Federal Republic or a Land nor to the Federal Government or a Land government.
Appointment and term of office of members
(1) The President of the German Bundestag shall appoint the members of the German Ethics Council, half on the proposal of the German Bundestag and half on the proposal of the Federal Government.
(2) The members shall be appointed for a four-year term. They may be re-appointed once.
(3) The members may at any time declare their resignation from the German Ethics Council in writing to the President of the German Bundestag. If a member leaves prematurely, a new member shall be appointed for a four-year term. In this case, the appointment of the new member shall be on the proposal of the body that submitted the proposal of the resigning member under paragraph 1.
(1) The German Ethics Council shall elect a chair and vice-chair or vice-chairs from among its members by secret ballot for a four-year term. They may be re-elected once.
(2) The German Ethics Council shall adopt rules of procedure.
(3) The German Ethics Council may establish working groups and have reports prepared by third parties.
(1) The deliberations of the German Ethics Council are public; it may also meet in closed session and publish the results of such deliberations.
(2) The German Ethics Council shall publish its Opinions, recommendations and reports.
(3) If, in the drafting process, members have a dissenting view, they may express this in the Opinion, the recommendation or the report.
The German Ethics Council shall be supported in carrying out its duties by an administrative office. The administrative office shall be established by the President of the German Bundestag. It shall report to the chair of the German Ethics Council.
Duty of confidentiality
The members of the German Ethics Council and the members of the administrative office shall observe confidentiality with regard to deliberations in closed session and documents regarded as confidential by the German Ethics Council. The duty of confidentiality shall also apply to information that is given to the German Ethics Council and described as confidential.
(1) The members of the German Ethics Council shall receive a lump-sum expense allowance and reimbursement of their travel costs under the Bundesreisekostengesetz (Federal Travel Expenses Act). The expense allowance shall be determined by the President of the German Bundestag.
(2) The costs of the German Ethics Council and its administrative office shall be borne by the Federation.
Entry into force
This Act shall enter into force on 1 August 2007.
The translation of the Ethics Council’s Rules of Procedure into English is intended solely as a convenience to the non-German-reading public. The English version is not binding and has no legal effect for compliance or enforcement purposes.
Pursuant to section 6(2) of the Ethics Council Act (Ethikratgesetz), the German Ethics Council adopts the following Rules of Procedure.
Independence of members. Partiality. Duty of confidentiality. Suspension of membership
(1) The members are not bound by instructions. They represent their personal convictions and are bound only by their conscience.
(2) If, in connection with a particular issue, there is concern that there may be a conflict of interest, the member in question shall notify the chair or the vice-chairs of this and discuss the matter with the chair or vice-chairs. If this discussion does not result in agreement as to whether there is a conflict of interest, the Council shall decide in the absence of the member in question as to whether that member is to take part in the relevant deliberations and voting.
(3) The members have a duty of confidentiality with regard to the deliberations in closed session and the documents described as confidential.
(4) A member may request the chair to permit his or her membership to be suspended. The suspension of membership means that the member will continue to receive all notices from the office but will no longer attend meetings of the plenum and the working groups, and that the absence of the Council member from these meetings shall be deemed to be excused without any further communication. Suspension of membership also means that the Council member does not take part in votes and elections of the German Ethics Council, is not taken into account in position statements and dissenting position statements of the German Ethics Council and will no longer appear in public as a member of the German Ethics Council. The suspension of membership shall end as soon as the member in question informs the chair that the reasons for suspension no longer apply.
(1) The Council shall constitute a quorum if more than half of the members are present. Unless other majorities are prescribed, the Council shall decide by the majority of the members present.
(2) Resolutions may be passed in writing or by electronic means, if the Council so resolves by a majority of the members present.
(1) The chair and the vice-chairs shall be elected by an absolute majority of the members of the Council. If this majority is not reached on the first ballot, there shall be a second ballot. This ballot shall decide between the two candidates with the most votes in the first ballot; the decision shall be by a simple majority. In the event of a tie here, after a further discussion there shall be a further (third) ballot. If this too results in a tie, there shall be a decision by drawing lots. The Council shall decide by simple majority on the number of deputies.
(2) The chair or a vice-chair shall conduct the meetings and be responsible for preparing the agenda. He or she shall represent the Council. If the chair is prevented, the vice-chairs shall exercise his or her duties in the sequence determined by the Council. With the consent of the Council, he or she may assign individual duties to the vice-chairs.
The Council shall adopt a work programme. The programme will, as a general rule, be updated once a year.
(1) Meetings will, as a general rule, be held once a month in Berlin.
(2) The date of each meeting shall be set by the Council a considerable time in advance. An extraordinary meeting shall be held within ten days at the request of a minimum of seven members.
(3) The agenda of each meeting shall be provisionally decided in the previous meeting. The chair and/or the vice-chairs may add further items to the agenda if a need for this arises subsequently. They should do this if it is requested by three members. A final decision on the agenda shall be made by resolution at the beginning of the meeting itself.
(4) Notices convening meetings, with the agenda attached and the necessary documentation, shall be sent at the latest ten days in advance. In the case of extraordinary meetings, the notice period shall be three days.par
Public nature of meetings
(1) Pursuant to section 7 of the Ethics Council Act, the plenary meetings of the Council shall, as a general rule, be public. A decision to meet in closed session shall be passed by the votes of the majority of the Council. The meetings of the working groups shall not be public.
(2) Agenda items that pursuant to paragraph 1 are to be discussed in public shall be so identified on the agenda. This will be published on the Internet.
(3) Admission to the public meetings shall be subject to availability of seats. In individual cases, the Council may permit sound and image recording.
(1) Resolution minutes of the meetings shall be made. The minutes shall be sent to all members within two weeks after the meeting. Any objections must be made within ten days after the sending. If objections are not complied with, a decision shall be made on them in the next meeting.
(2) The minutes of the public meetings and events shall be published on the Internet. The results of deliberations in closed session may also be published on the Internet.
Expert reports, experts and guests
The Council may arrange for investigations to be carried out and expert reports made and may enlist the services of experts in its work. In addition, representatives of the constitutional bodies authorised to instruct the Council, of public authorities and institutions, of organisations and associations, and other guests may be invited to attend deliberations on individual topics.
Rapporteurs, working groups
(1) The Council may appoint members, with their consent, as rapporteurs on specific topics.
(2) In addition, the Council may form working groups from its members to prepare specific topics, but also to discuss whole subject areas. The working groups shall appoint their spokesperson and, if necessary, rapporteurs, who shall present the results of their work to the Council.
(3) Section 8 applies to the working groups, with the necessary modifications.
Position statements and publications
(1) Opinions, recommendations, reports and annual reports shall be adopted, after an oral discussion of the draft submitted by the rapporteur or spokesperson of the working group, by the plenum in a meeting or in writing or by electronic means under Section 2 (2) above. The adoption of Opinions shall be subject to the procedure set out in the Appendix to the Rules of Procedure. Where Opinions with dissenting position statements/recommendations are published, the Council members shall be listed by name beneath the position statement/the recommendation which they have chosen. In the case of an abstention, the member(s) shall not be named.
(2) At the request of members whose views diverge from the majority opinion, dissenting position statements shall be attached to the majority opinion.
(3) The Council shall decide in each case on the date and manner of publication of Opinions, recommendations, reports and annual reports after they are forwarded to the Federal Government and the Bundestag.
Cooperation with German Bundestag and Federal Government
(1) The Council shall provide the German Bundestag or a parliamentary body appointed by the German Bundestag and the Federal Government with the agendas of its meetings.
(2) The Council may invite members of the Bundestag and the Federal Government to attend particular deliberations.
(1) The Council shall be supported in carrying out its duties by an administrative office. The staff of the office shall be subject to the specialist instructions of the Council and – where matters of day-to-day business are concerned – of the chair or of the vice-chairs.
(2) The Council shall decide on the basis of relevant submissions of the chair or the vice-chairs on the organisation of the office and, where executive-grade posts are concerned, on filling these, and on the appropriation of the total budget funds at its disposal.
(3) The staff of the office shall attend meetings as stipulated in detail by the Council.
Amendments to the Rules of Procedure
Amendments to the Rules of Procedure require the consent of a two-thirds majority of the members of the Council.
In accordance with the Ethics Council Act (Section 4 (2) EthRG), council members shall reflect a variety of ethical approaches and a pluralist spectrum of opinion.
Council members are particularly qualified for their work due to their knowledge in different areas of expertise. Due to a variety of accompanying institutional connections, conflicts of interest may therefore arise. The German Ethics Council’s internal rules of procedure thus stipulate that council members notify the Chair of potential conflicts of interest, so that a decision can be made if and to what extent that council member can continue to partake in the deliberations and vote (Cf. Section 1 (2) Rules of Procedure).
To further ensure a transparent handling of potential conflicts of interest, the ethics council publishes the curricula vitae of council members on its website to disclose not only what expertise council members can contribute, but also any activities in other scientific, social, economic, cultural or religious institutions that reveal the council members context of action. In the council’s view, however, the membership in other organisations and institutions represents in itself no conflict of interest.
It is worth noting, that the Council’s recommendations at the end of each deliberative process must be supported by a majority. The position of individual council members is thus not decisive for the Council’s recommendations to politics and the public.