The founding of the German Reference Centre for Ethics in the Life Sciences (DRZE) on 1 January, 1999 was a milestone in the development of bioethics research in Germany. This brief information explains the context, aims, concept and structure of the centre.

The context for the founding of the DRZE

In a pluralistic society the ethical and legal debate caused by recent developments in the life sciences and their application in medicine and biotechnology can be expected to be a complex one. The new possibilities of intervention and treatment require careful evaluation.

Several disciplines contribute relevant considerations to the process of opinion and judgment formation within our society. Thus the interdisciplinary cooperation of researchers from the sciences, medicine, the law, philosphy, theology and the social sciences has become indispensable.
At the same time, global research and its application necessitate an international dialogue. Finally, the speed of innovation in this area requires early consideration of the ethical, legal and social issues that arise.

An adequate culture of judgment formation commensurate with the complexity of the process described above can only develop if those involved in it have access to reliable, comprehensive and current information.

Accordingly, on 23 April, 1997 the Federal Minister for Education, Science, Research and Technology recommended to the Council for Research, Technology and Innovation reporting to the Federal Chancellor to implement measures to foster bioethical reflection and debate.

In the context of his statement on the cloning of humans the minister then announced on 29 April, 1997 an initiative to strengthen ethical reflection in German research. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) held a symposium about "Current requirements for bioethics research" on 12 December 1997, and about the same time launched an invitation to submit preliminary ideas for a "bioethics reference centre".

On 5 February, 1998 the Federal Government published guidelines for the funding of such a centre. The guidelines stipulated

  • that it should maintain a central collection and access point for relevant information
  • that it should be linked to an established research institution in the area of bioethics
  • that it should cooperate internationally with other database providers.

The Bonn Concept for the DRZE

The grant application for the DRZE as well as its concept which has been developed by the Institute of Science and Ethics (IWE) in view of the funding guidelines of the BMBF (German Federal Ministry of Education and Research) are oriented toward the National Reference Centre for Bioethics Literature of the USA, which has been operating successfully for more than 25 years.

It follows from this concept, that the management of the DRZE’s work shall be incumbent upon a directorate/Board of Trustees. Academic guidance shall be provided by an Advisory Council, in which, beside ethics and the law, the affected natural sciences, the relevant applied fields and the European and international dimensions shall be represented in a qualified way.

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