What is the Danish Council on Ethics?
The Danish Council on Ethics is an independent and debate-generating institution. The Council has no legislative, executive, or judicial functions. The purpose of the council is to advise the Parliament, ministers, and public authorities on ethical issues and challenges, as well as to make current ethical issues the subject of debate in society. The Ethical Council can express opinions on new bio- and genetic technologies that impact human lives, our nature, environment, and food. The Council also takes a stance on ethical issues related to our healthcare system. The Council consists of 17 members who are appointed for a 3-year period. Members can be reappointed for an additional 3 years and can, therefore, serve as members for a maximum of 6 years. The members are a mix of professionals and laypersons.
The Council follows developments in society and continually initiates new projects aimed at unraveling ethical questions arising in healthcare and the use of new techniques. As we are an independent and autonomous body, neither ministers, the Parliament, nor others can give instructions or the like to the Council regarding specific tasks. The same applies to the specific content of statements, advice, public debates, or otherwise. If the Council receives a request to address a specific topic, the Council decides whether to comply with the request. In its work, the Council must operate with respect for the integrity and dignity of individuals and future generations, as well as respect for nature and the environment. Respect for the integrity and dignity of individuals also includes the early stages of human life, including fertilized human eggs and embryos.
The Council cannot address ethical issues related to animals, as such matters fall under the purview of the Animal Ethics Council. The Danish Council on Ethics also cannot address specific personal cases, as the Council focuses on general ethical issues.
The Council holds a full-day meeting approximately once a month, and in addition, members hold meetings in the working groups currently established. The outcomes from the working groups take various forms, including reports, statements, and responses to consultations. We also organize debate events. The Council prioritizes disseminating its work widely, including through the use of interactive platforms targeted at primary and secondary school education.
The Danish Council on Ethics is supported by the National Centre for Ethics.
History and legislation
Ethical problems arising in areas such as genetic engineering, assisted reproduction and fetal examination, caused the Danish Minister for the Interior to set up a committee in April 1984 to look into these questions. At this time an intense media debate about the rapid development in the field of reproductive technologies captivated the public.
In October 1984 the committee submitted its report "The Price of Progress", which suggested that a central ethical council for the health service should be created by law.
The bill was passed in June 1987 by a large majority in the Danish Parliament. The purpose of the act is to ensure that advice and information concerning ethical problems arising from developments in the health service and the biomedical field are continuously submitted to the Danish Parliament, the public authorities and the public at large.
The act also sets up a parliamentary committee on The Council on Ethics for the purpose of safeguarding the close relations between the Danish Parliament and The Council of Ethics. The parliamentary committee influences the composition of The Council of Ethics by appointing a certain number of its members. Furthermore the parliamentary committee follows the work of the Council and can call on it to take up certain topics within its terms of reference.
The Minister of Health has no instructional powers towards The Danish Council on Ethics and likewise the Minister has no obligation to follow the recommendations of The Council.
The Council began its work on January 1st 1988. The "Act on the Establishment of an Ethical Council" directs the Council to partly submit reports concerning specific topics fixed by law and partly take up tasks on its own initiative. The reports concerning specific topics were submitted in the period 1988-1990.