Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Human Rights

Over the years UNESCO has confirmed its standard-setting role in bioethics. UNESCO has contributed to the formulation of basic principles in bioethics through in particular the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, adopted unanimously and by acclamation by the General Conference in 1997 and endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1998, and the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data, adopted unanimously and by acclamation by the General Conference on 16 October 2003.

Apart from the fact that ethical issues related to the advances in life sciences and their applications were and still are highly topical, the depth and extent of their roots in the cultural, philosophical and religious bedrocks of various human communities were reason enough for UNESCO, the only organization whose fields of competence include the social and human sciences, true to its ethical vocation, to take the lead in this initiative.

On the second week of July 2010, a novel project in University of California, Berkeley where student’s DNA are sent for genetic analysis was commenced. Students can choose to use the kits to submit their DNA for genetic analysis, as part of an orientation program on the topic of personalized medicine. This project is not only conducted in U.C. Berkeley, but also in Stanford University. This Berkeley’s project goal is to trigger discussion among students on how genetic testing works. Although this project seems to be acceptable and safe enough, there are now more and more debates over this issue. George
Annas, a bioethicist at the Boston University School of Public Health expressed his reservations stating that the project might be premature, and the students are too early to this steep learning curve.

In this context, the biggest concern is the right to privacy as stated in article 12 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Privacy is a fundamental right. Thus, it must be viewed differently than any ordinary economic good. Individual’s privacy is not absolute. It does not, for an instance, prevent reporting of public health information on communicable disease. Many people however, consider privacy as a very sensitive matter. In this Berkeley’s case, the main privacy concerns arise from

1. The manner in which universities are asking for genetic data from students

2. What will happen to that information

3. How students will understand and respond to the results of their tests

Moreover, there are some arguments that this project, or so-called-assignment run on coercion. These arguments seem very true since Berkeley is not offering an alternative. Looking back at the article 12 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, wherein stated that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home, or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation; this project appear to be conformed violating with every of the elements in the article.

The crux of the concern is no else than how the universities will use the resulting data. Since the data disclose to whichever exponent regards not only the individual physical and mental statuses, but also family and relatives, the confidentiality of the data is extremely important. Again, in Berkeley’s case, the matter is complicated by contradicting statements about exactly what kind of project the university is organizing. The program’s founder insisted it is not a research or medical project, but all the participating students must sign explicitly characterizes the project as “a medical research study in the area of personalized medicine…..” Kimberly
Tallbear, a professor of science, technology and environmental policy at Berkeley, says “if you look at the language in the informed consent, it looks like it’s a study”. Would the obscurity of the kind of project the university organizing threaten the privacy of the students?

Recent scientific issues regarding human right revolve around information and information technology, as discussed before. It is because that information could lead to the precariousness of other human rights, or even securing it.

In an interview with Mona
Younis on the anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights, Mona explained that the Science and Human Rights program pioneered in the 1980s the application of forensic and genetic sciences to the exhumation of mass graves in Argentina. And in the 1990s the program addressed a large-scale violation of human rights via statistical information management techniques. Information is so sensitive, that even human right securing approach would be recognized as human right violation approach.

Although, more often than not, average people perceive nuclear threat, privacy concern, when they hear dangers posed by science. Science has actually approached better documenting and reporting of human rights violations. The approach currently utilizing
geospatial technologies like satellite imagery for human rights monitoring and conflict prevention. These new tools allow us to gain access to previously inaccessible conflict zones, and provide compelling visual evidence.

Satellite pictures taken before and after an attack on the village of
Angabo in Darfur. There are a growing number of cases in which technologies developed for routine scientific and medical uses are finding unexpected application in the shrouded world of genocide, torture, and political oppression.

Most people would think that human right conflicts can only be resolved with treaties, reconciliation attempt and diplomatic approach, but when those ways are out of questions, science comes into picture. As advancement in science and technology will provide gradually increasing compelling tools of upholding human rights and also will play as a deterrent.

Many out there have a prejudice thinking about scientific research and developments. Misinterpretation and lack of understanding is a crime because ignorance does that. When change is for the better, egoistic nature is a hindrance because no one wants to concede. However, people must seek knowledge and understanding for progress. Everyone has an opinion and perspective and this is one of the rights which people own.

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