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Cablegate: Usunesco: Informal Bioethics Declaration Meeting

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

201613Z May 05






E.O. 12958: N/A

1. An explicitly "informal" and ad referendum intersessional
meeting on the draft bioethics declaration called by
Ambassador Sader, President of the Intergovernmental Meeting
of Experts, was held at UNESCO on May 17. The meeting was
organized around a non-paper written by Sader and
distributed at the beginning of the meeting. It set out the
issues that need to be considered, organized by topic:
"terms and scope," "aims," "principles," and "transversal
issues." (The document is not yet available
electronically). The meeting was attended by US Mission
health attach John Hoff and Ambassador Oliver.

2. There was consensus (but not unanimity) for avoiding a
definition of bioethics and instead describing what is
covered. (Peru and Bolivia expressed reservations about
this approach; Mexico recognized that replacing a definition
with a description does not avoid the issues, and said the
description must contain the three matters at issue,
described below.) There was also consensus for merging
Articles 1 and 2. US rep pointed out that this depended on
the substance of the resulting provision.

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3. There was also general agreement that the substantive
disagreement centered on which of the three issues should be
addressed in the declaration ("the triptych")-medical,
social, and environmental. (These were sometimes referred
to as the 4 issues, depending on how so-called bio-piracy
and access to health care were counted). Brazil said that
the social and environmental issues may not be in the
definition of bioethics, but "touch on" bioethical issues.
US rep suggested that this approach might offer promise;
these other issues are not part of bioethics-access to
medicine is not bioethics, but the way care is
delivered/researched is-but may touch them (if they "touch,"
they are outside of bioethical issues and separate from
them), and the existence of these issues could be
acknowledged without including them in the operative
provisions of the declaration. [Any such formulation
should incorporate a reference to the other fora that are
dealing with these issues.] Canada said these other issues
were "linked" to bioethics. Luxembourg said bioethics
bears on bio-medical problems, but is "connected" with these
other issues.

4. After the break, the discussion turned to Article 3
(Aims). Countries began reintroducing the three items into
the body of bioethics through the statement of "aims."
India, for instance, said bio-ethics included bringing
medicine to people who need it, etc. Peru complained that
biodiversity was mentioned in Article 3 but social rights
weren't. Turkey wanted to add international companies.
Brazil emphasized the word "responsibility." US rep pointed
out that putting things into "Aims" makes them matters of
bioethics; social issues and biodiversity were not "aims"
of bioethics, but a goal for science (to which bioethics
should apply to prevent abuses of people). US rep also said
that respect for human life had to be in Aims, in which
human dignity is included. Canada pointed out the problems
in getting into these other areas-UNESCO already has adopted
declaration on these things. What would be the relationship
among the declarations?

5. After lunch the discussion turned to the "principles."
Ambassador Sader said the questions were whether to include
social issues, respect for human life, and a reference to
"double standards," referring to Saudi Arabia's suggested
modifications to Article 5 and Brazil's intervention on

Discussion of "transversal" issues

6. US rep pointed out the importance of shall/should and
said that even the Canadian approach presented problems: it
would take lawyers a lot of work to see what had previously
been agreed to as binding; there is a danger of inflation of
rights through summarized references; and if there were a
pre-existing obligation, there is no benefit in restating
it. Canada emphasized that their "starting point" was the
use of "should," that it "may be" all right to use "shall"
to refer to an "established legal right," but that this
would require "careful drafting." Japan agreed that the
word "should" should be used; they pointed out that this
does not depend on the nature of a particular article but
results from the non-binding nature of the document; they
said "shall" presents a problem. Peru suggested that since
the document was non-binding, "we have the luxury" of using
"shall." Canada then explained the difficulty this
presented: even if the document is non-binding, courts may
give weight to a principle that is stated in the mandatory
terms of "shall." Mexico said that "should" should be
used generally except when existing obligations.

7. Ambassador Sader said treatment of human life remains a
problem. He suggested including it in the preamble. US rep
said that this would not be sufficient, because that would
put a primary factor in a subordinate position to other
things that were derived from the primary principle. Brazil
said the world is split; this is difficult. Japan said we
should avoid discussion of this issue. Ambassador Sader
said use of "human beings" has been accepted-although a
particular context may require otherwise. He also discussed
using the preamble for settling controversial issues (in
addition to respect for life, discussed separately).

8. Germany said it would present language on scope-including
access to health care and biosphere: it would refer to the
common responsibility toward other forms of life. US rep
said we looked forward to the German wording but should be
cautious. Access to health care was not a matter of
bioethics. And what does "responsibility" to the biosphere
mean? These sound like the creation of undefined duties.
Australia said, "Going beyond the US," we have problems with
the term "responsibility"-they worried about creating legal
rights that the next generation could use.

9. There was discussion of next steps:
1) There will be a Chairman's summary of the meeting; states
can respond to it. .
2) Germany will develop and distribute language on scope.
3) By May 27 states must respond to Pierre Sane's letter
asking for comments on the IBC draft.
4) There was disagreement about whether to have another
intersessional meeting
5) Ambassador Sader will continue consultations (and may
convene another, even more informal meeting or may convene
another intersessional session).

Two interesting private discussions:

10. (SBU) The Japanese representative said they agree with
US on everything but inclusion of respect for life and were
waiting further instructions from Tokyo. US rep pointed out
that respect for life was simply a statement at the same
level of abstraction as other statements in the draft and
did not determine a result in any particular application;
they need to be persuaded of this. In another discussion,
the Indian Ambassador said that abortion had saved the lives
of thousands of Indians, and she was confident the US would
fold on this issue at the end.


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