- Bioethics in Belarus:Results, Problems and Prospects
Republic of Belarus
For almost 15 years, since 2000 when Minsk hosted the First International Conference Biomedical Ethics: Issues and Prospects (with the publication of the conference materials under the same name), the problems of bioethics have remained the focus of the scientific and humanitarian communities.
The post-Soviet countries, including the Republic of Belarus, have developed a model of bioethics as an interdisciplinary field of knowledge analysing moral problems related to the life and health of human beings and other living organisms. Assessment of the role and place of a human being within the framework of the biological reality, determining the status of the categories of life and death, development of ethical standards and principles governing human actions in the process of investigating man and nature, moral and social criteria of activities aimed at protecting human health and the environment—these fall within the scope of the local bioethical models based on the integrated study of their subjects and challenges.
For Belarus, with the critical state of its nature-society balance, the status of bioethical parameters is of particular importance. The results of biomedical studies point to a direct and obvious threat to public health and the preservation of the genetic pool, especially in view of the radiation and chemical pollution of the Belarusian territory, associated with the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe. Therefore, the current bioethical model and the programme of biomedical research is tailored to the public health system of the Republic and its scientific, socio-cultural, legal, and spiritual and philosophical traditions. At the same time, it requires further theoretical and practical development. [End Page 440]
Currently, the Republic of Belarus has developed objective and subjective prerequisites for developing the institutional foundations of bioethics. In 2000, the National Centre for Examinations and Tests in Health Service (created in 1999) developed the guidelines On Organisation and Operation of Ethics Committees in the Republic of Belarus. Since then, the ethics review of pre-clinical and clinical examinations, medical technology, etc. is performed directly through the network of local ethics committees established at medical therapeutic-and-preventive institutions and medical universities. Individual regions/departments operate regional ethics committees, with committees and centres of research bioethics (National Coordination Centre for Biosafety at the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, National Centre for Examinations and Tests in Health Service, Pharmacological Committee, etc.).
In conducting biomedical and genetic research, all ethics committees are guided by international practice in establishing mechanisms of setting up a committee, its authority and objectives (the main one being protection of the subjects’ rights, safety and health). Each of these committees (commission, association, centre, etc.) has its own aims and functions; at the same time, they share common ground in addressing bioethical dilemmas in various fields of research and public health. In this way, the platform has been created for establishing the National Committee on Bioethics (NCB) in the Republic of Belarus, authorised to take legislative initiatives aimed at protecting human rights in the field of biomedicine, coordinating the actions of local and regional bioethics committees, and developing a general strategy of bioethics education of specialists and within the general population.
The NCB was set up in Belarus under the aegis of the Ministry of Health in 2006, with the support of the UNESCO Moscow Regional Office and the Commission of the Republic of Belarus for UNESCO. The NCB Charter determined its status and structure, legal grounds, functions and authority, and its scope relative to the local bioethics committees’ areas of activity. The main goals and objectives of the NCB are: public control over preserving human rights according to biomedical ethics criteria; fundamental bioethics research of the human and moral significance of the achievements in biomedical sciences; ensuring independent examination, consultation and decision-making processes necessary for protecting the rights and dignity of biomedical, genetic and other research subjects (humans or animals); evaluation of ethical, legal and social issues in biomedical research; building of confidence, consolidation and partnership between doctors and patients based on the principle of informed consent; and legislative initiatives in the field of bioethics. [End Page 441]