Ethical challenges in confronting disasters: Some lessons learned
The Role of Bioethics in Policy-Making in the European Union
Maria do Céu Patrão Neves is a Full Professor of Ethics, at the Department of Philosophy at the University of the Azores (Portugal), where she is also responsible for the teaching and research on applied ethics (mainly bioethics).
She graduated in Philosophy in 1984. She then developed research on contemporary French philosophy, mainly on the philosopher Maurice Blondel, having studied at the Maurice Blondel's Archives, at the Catholique University of Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. Both, her Master and Ph.D thesis were dedicated to Blondel's though under a theory of knowledge perspective. She also published several papers on this philosopher and two books: Studies on Maurice Blondel (1999), and A Problemática do «Pensamento» em Blondel. Esboço de uma teoria da Natureza e de uma doutrina do Espírito (2000).
From then on Patrão Neves focused in philosophical anthropology and ethics
She was the scientific and pedagogic coordinator for the area of Philosophy (2005-2009).
For decades, bioethics has weighed in the drafting of public policies in the European Union, as evidenced by the institutional model for the establishment of permanent ethics committees initiated in France and firmly implanted in Europe (and not ad hoc as in the Anglo-American model). Bioethical concerns appear not only at the level of the Member-states but also at the European level.
With regard to the Member-states, they benefit from wide legislative freedom and political action, in compliance with Treaties and respect for the values that constitute the European Union. Hence the enormous discrepancies among the bioethical standings of the various Member-states, as paradigmatically exemplified by the disparity between what is established in the United Kingdom and in Germany. Regarding the European area, the objective is to establish procedures common to all Member-States, which can only be achieved through the identification of a lowest common denominator, that is, an ethics of minimum.
The deep political-legislative discrepancy in bioethics among the 28 Member-states and the modest European perspective to achieve only an ethics of minimum weakens the performance of bioethics in the drafting of public policies. On the other hand, bioethical reflection and action are exercised in three different domains in the European Union, thus reinforcing its intervention. They are: organizational, in the joint action of the three main European institutions - Commission, Council and Parliament - in which the imperative of a consensus can dilute pertinent bioethics issues; institutional, in the direct counseling to the President of the European Commission on new areas of ethics sensitivity and political-legislative orientations, namely through the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies; and public opinion, either structured through public consultations and the action of lobbies, or spontaneous through direct action of the European citizens in the issues that arouse and mobilize them in an often clearly effective action.
The various modalities of intervention of bioethics in the drafting of European public policies will be illustrated by two cases of different nature: that of the GMOs in the environmental realm, and that of the clinical trials in the realm of biomedical research.