Several types of activity may be concerned in this respect, such as medical assistance to procreation, transplants of human body parts, examinations of a person's genetic characteristics for the purposes of predictive medicine, therapies produced by genetic engineering and biomedical research into the human being. In recent years, some scientific advances have been misused, so that therapeutic techniques have been diverted to purposes which are not necessarily desirable. one such example is facilitating pregnancies in women beyond the natural age of procreation and the possible consequences of this practice for a child's parentage and rights. Similarly, marrow and tissue transplants cause conflicts of interest between patients awaiting a transplant and potential donors, dead or alive, and their families. Furthermore, serious doubts may be entertained regarding the use of predictive genetic tests with no therapeutic or preventive finality, especially in the course of medical examinations prior to job recruitment or to signing insurance contracts.
In addition there are genetic applications in the area of prenatal or pre-implant diagnosis. In order to preserve the human species, it would be preferable surely to use gene therapy with caution, restricting it to somatic cells (body cells excluding germ cells), to the exclusion of germ cells (i.e. the cells used for sexual reproduction). Equally, recent genetic research leading to the creation of mammal clones gives rise to mixed feelings, since it raises questions not only about man's dignity, but also about his social ties. This type of research might create two types of human being: the real one, if we can use such a term, and the clone, with all the consequences one may imagine. While the freedom of research and researchers should be sacrosanct, as an essential precondition of any scientific progress, it seems inconceivable that man himself should become a subject of experimentation, considering that any scientific progress in the field of medicine sooner or later implies the transfer of therapeutic testing to the human being. It would therefore appear necessary to assert the primacy of man over science when consideration is given to studies into the human embryo, man himself or his genome.
In other respects, it may be noted that the increasingly sophisticated technology involved in medicine, especially in hospitals, has had a dehumanizing effect. It would appear extremely important, then, to restore respect for a patient's person and dignity at the heart of medicine, by confirming his right to be as fully informed as possible and to respect for his privacy. For this purpose, due consideration must be given to the patient's free and lucid consent. Similarly, in the event of a transplant, the deceased donor must continue to be entitled to respect for his body and his dignity, just as the living donor, who should be protected against any kind of pressure. A real effort should therefore be made to ascertain the will of the deceased prior to any organ transplant; the wishes of the family are secondary in that respect.
Gene therapy, for which patients sometimes require care for long periods, also raises a problem. The question is to what extent a patient may freely suspend or withdraw from a course of treatment, in view of the fact that certain new therapies in the last few years have been known to carry risks, apart from the usual uncertainties related to treatments.
In other respects - as confirmed unfortunately by recent events - scientific and technical advances in the area of the environment and food have led to harmful consequences for public health (as in the case of mad cow or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease).
The advances achieved in the fields of life and health sciences and the awareness of their human implications have marked the end of this century, at a time when man is able to combine his knowledge-with the power to change the development of all species, including his own, by using the latest discoveries in genetics and embryology. In view of this, there is a need to ensure that scientific advances benefit humankind as a whole, without detracting from human rights.