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uni'wissen 01-2015

Further Reading German Ethics Council (2014) (Ed.): Biosecurity – Freedom and Respon- sibility of Research. Vöneky, S. / Beylage-Haarmann, B. / Höfelmeier, A. / Hübler, A.-K. (Eds.) (2013): Ethics and law – The ethicalization of law / Ethik und Recht – Die Ethisierung des Rechts. Heidelberg (= Beiträge zum ausländischen öffentlichen Recht und Völkerrecht 240). Videos from a symposium on the risk of misuse in the life sciences at the University of Freiburg (2014) (in German): Read more about Silja Vöneky’s research in “Control over One’s Own Genes” on our research portal Surprising Science: the government should regulate the most important issues concerning basic rights. This means that scientists cannot decide alone when to refrain from conducting research on a particular topic in order to protect public health.” Vöneky argues that internal codes can be used to sensitize scien- tists to the potential for misuse of research. These standards can also be put in place faster than a law. The governing bodies of science organizations and universities can implement these codes. In Freiburg scientists ask the ethics commission of the University Medical Center when they need approval for research funding proposals. “But in particular cases of high-risk research, only a legally constituted national or European commission can ensure with its votes that the risk–benefit analysis is democratically legitimate and that the decision is reached on the basis of uniform criteria.” Commissions Prevent Rejections By asking a commission of this kind to examine research with a high potential for misuse before- hand and evaluate the findings, says Vöneky, researchers can avoid situations in which their research is rejected, as after the H5N1 experi- ments in 2012. Two research groups from the USA and the Netherlands had modified H5N1 viruses, the cause of the so-called bird flu, in the lab in order to learn more in advance about the natural mutations. The modified virus turned out to allow airborne transmission between mammals. The scientists argued that their research had been justified since the benefit outweighed the risks. However, their findings led to a moratorium on experiments of this kind and to demands for a ban on funding and publication of findings. Such measures are still being considered for similar cases today. A legally constituted national com- mission could ensure that only high-risk research whose findings can be published is eligible to receive public funding. In summer 2012 the German Parliament com- missioned the German Ethics Council to prepare a statement on biosecurity and freedom of research. A working group headed by Vöneky recommended combining the two regulation models: A biosecurity code will minimize the biosecurity risks of research in the scientific community, while a nationwide interdisciplinary expert commission will assess experiments with particular relevance for security. Lawmakers will determine which research should be regarded as especially dangerous and who will sit on the commission. “Since everyone would be affected if a dangerous virus fell into the wrong hands, not just the researchers, the democratically elected representatives in parlia- ment should make all fundamental decisions on how to minimize the security risks of this research.” silja-voeneky Prof. Dr. Silja Vöneky has served since 2010 as professor of public law, inter- national law, comparative law, and legal ethics at the University of Freiburg. In 2009 she completed her ha- bilitation at the University of Heidelberg with a thesis on the foundations and limits of democratic legitimation for ethics commissions. From 2005 to 2011 she headed the research group “Democratic Legitimation of Ethical Deci- sions – Ethics and Law in Biotechnology and Modern Medicine” at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg. Since 2012 she has served on the board of directors of the Net- work of Excellence for the Law of Civil Security in Europe (KORSE) at the University of Freiburg. In 2012 the German federal government appointed her to the German Ethics Council. Photo: German Ethics Council “The Federal Constitutional Court resolved that the legislative branch of the government should regulate the most important issues concerning basic rights.” 35