Professor Judit Sandor Discusses Bioethics and Human Rights at Vatican Conference

Professor Judit Sandor represented CEU at the 28th General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life held at Vatican City from February 20-22. The conference focused on the theme “Converging on the Person: Emerging Technologies for the Common Good” and brought together more than 200 notable academics and researchers from the most prestigious universities and research centers in the world, as well as the representatives of UNESCO and WHO. The president of the European Group of Ethics, Barbara Prainsack, was also present at this high-level global meeting on bioethics.

Among the thirteen distinguished invited speakers were Katalin Kariko, Herve Chneiweiss, Mauro Ferrari, Cato Laurencin, Barbara Prainsack, Bruno Siciliano and Director of CEU’s Center for Ethics and Law in Biomedicine (CELAB) Judit Sandor. Scholars and researchers had an opportunity to meet Pope Francis in person, who had delivered the introductory speech on how emerging technologies should serve the common good of humankind.

The conference analyzed the global challenges of various emerging technologies, highlighted ethical responses to these challenges, and fostered the dissemination of these responses to policymakers and the general public throughout the world.

Professor Sandor’s presentation “The Role of Human Rights in Regulating Convergent New Technologies” explored and analyzed the legal responses to the key emerging technologies of genome editing and artificial intelligence. “Whenever new technologies emerge, legal reactions to them usually take two, contrasting forms. One view holds that it is better to wait and see how the stakeholders and the market work out proper, safe, and ethical ways to apply the technology. The other approach calls for immediate regulation, accreditation, and licensing – which, mostly, cover the mere technical elements of the innovation” said Professor Sandor, who argued for a third position in her speech that focused on Legal aspects and Governance.

Sandor emphasized that regulations should focus on the ethical challenges and social consequences of introducing new technologies, while a human rights approach may assist in avoiding the misuse of technological advances. Human rights are based on an international consensus and claim universal principles, such as equal dignity to all. Although interpretation of these principles and norms are not always evident, human rights principles serve as compasses that help to find the best ways of protecting people’s life, dignity, and safety, respecting their privacy, and preventing their unlawful discrimination.

Moreover, new human rights norms may also develop in reaction to the threats posed by new technologies, such as discrimination, hacking or spying, manipulation or fraud. When threats and risks are analyzed, one can notice that these could be easily transformed to opportunities and remedies. Human rights may help to assess the changes that a new technology may bring to us. Human rights may also assist in determining the benefits and disadvantages of technological innovations. For instance, while artificial intelligence may be useful in analyzing big data, it makes many services impersonal. Judit Sandor compared the development of the laws on emerging technologies and called for better communication between bio and technoethics.