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Rethinking the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights

To mark the 10 years of validity of the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, it is worth rethinking its principles and guidelines, bowing to human dignity, which only coalesces with life in a social, political and economic environment where ethical values are applied on a daily basis.

The United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO), in October 2005, adopted by acclamation the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, a historic milestone, in which Member States have committed themselves, and the international community, to respect and apply the fundamental principles of bioethics condensed into a single text.

Such a statement points out that the progress of science and technology can generate great benefits to humanity, increasing life expectancy, improving its quality, and that these developments should always seek to promote the well-being of individuals, families, groups and communities. Therefore, humanity in general, in recognition of the dignity of the human person and in the universal and effective respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.1

It proposes as one of its goals to recognize the importance of freedom of scientific research and the benefits arising from developments in science and technology, stressing at the same time the need that this research and its results meet the ethical principles set out in the referred Declaration1.

In order to do so, it is vital that people and populations, from the achievements of the past, take ownership of their destiny, determining the present and the future as consequences of their decisions.

In reference to these achievements, Bobbio2 points out that we do not need more rights, but instead we need the implementation of the ones we already have. The current issue is to prevent the violation of the human rights and corroborate its full concreteness, reaching all people. This idea is reinforced when it is highlighted that "justice by its very nature, must have a universal reach, rather than applying to the problems and difficulties of some people, but not others".3:147

It is up to the professionals/students involved in health practices and in the production of knowledge, to give the necessary visibility to the moral and ethical contexts that are indispensable in this process, which has the human being as the center of this multidimensional practice that promotes and concerns the right to live well in society. Thus, the concern for such a noble commitment must also be focused on human causes and on social relations of different population groups.

In this context, bioethics creates a space for interdisciplinary dialogue, that is, collaboration and interaction of different areas of knowledge, and its decisions cannot be made based only on the daily facts that arise in the field of health practices. This can lead to error, since it is necessary to take into account the uniqueness of the people involved in this process.4

For this, it is important to emphasize a new and characteristic categorical imperative related to another type of human action: Act in such a way that the consequences of your action correspond to an authentic human life. Such an imperative has a rational nature, meaning a collective action as a public good and not an individual one. It draws attention to the Principle of Responsibility, which, in addition to being considered an ethical principle, provides a perspective of critical dialogue in the midst of a technological era.5

It is an aspect of extreme relevance when one articulates Bioethics with Human Rights and it should be expressed in the various productions of knowledge, especially life, health and the well-being of human beings. The Principle of Responsibility also implies to be an imperative of existence, because this would be the first ethical and responsible condition with and for the present world and tomorrow's.

After all, analyzing the historicity of achievements over the years leads us to the respect for the human being, which happens by the moral-ethical commitment and its implications for the exercise of citizenship.

In this sense, equity and social justice should be part of the important and necessary debate in order to understand the contradictions of what is happening today and what is advocated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and constitute the principles of the Unified Health System (SUS – Sistema Único de Saúde), having constitutional rights.

Both equity and social justice are linked and must be part of an ethical action, since ethics and bioethics must have a character of universality, but also of particularity, represented here by the sensitivity of attention to the context and to individual characteristics. Thus, bioethics expresses the concern for a just life, which will always be just in relation to the other; ethics and bioethics are therefore relational.6,7

The Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights throughout its text contemplates an extremely dear issue to bioethics in Brazil, the concern regarding the dignity of the human person and, in particular, with the vulnerable ones in face of technological advances, economic inequalities and, therefore, social inequalities. From this perspective, it is worth mentioning Amartya Sen3 - "what moves us, with great wisdom, is not the realization that the world is deprived of complete justice, but that around us there are clearly remedial injustices that we want to eliminate".3:9

We therefore have political and social engagement in view of the fact that the core of the statements is transformed into praxis. For this, it is important to consider the positionality of the subjects, social actors. It is then emphasized that the original position will determine from which perspective we will perceive the rights or the violation of these, resulting in their defense to a greater or lesser degree.

It is worth stressing that human rights do not exist by themselves if they do not turn into political rights, they must be written and not only being part of the wishes of society, just as "human rights are not in a state of nature; they are the rights of human beings in society".2.8

We hope that the positive results of the studies disseminated by this Journal will be shared by health professionals and other readers for the benefit of the quality of life of our clients, families and consumers.


Benedita Maria Rêgo Deusdará Rodrigues
Editorial Advisor

Patrícia Lima Pereira Peres
Associate Professor of the Department of Maternal-Child Nursing, Nursing College, State University of Rio de Janeiro.

Araci Carmen Clos
Assistant Editor



1.Organização das Nações Unidas para a Educação, Ciência e Cultura (UNESCO). Declaração Universal sobre Bioética e Direitos Humanos. Portugal: UNESCO; 2006.

2.Bobbio, N. A era dos direitos.Rio de Janeiro: Campus Elsevier; 2004.

3.Sen, A. A ideia de Justiça. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras; 2011.

4.Rodrigues, BMRD, Peres, PLP, Pacheco, STA. Boas práticas de maternança na perspectiva bioética: uma contribuição para a enfermagem pediátrica. Revenferm. UERJ. 2015; 23: 567-571.

5.Honas, J. El principio del resposabilidad: ensayo de una ética para la civilizaciontecnologica. Barcelona: Herder; 1995.

6.Pegoraro, AO. Ética é Justiça. Petrópolis: Editora Vozes; 1999.

7.Pegoraro, AO. Ética e Bioética: Da subsistência à existência. 2a Ed. Petrópolis: Vozes; 2010.

8.Hunt, L. A invenção dos Direitos Humanos - Uma história. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras; 2009.

Direitos autorais 2016 Benedita Maria Rêgo Deusdará Rodrigues, Patrícia Lima Pereira Peres, Araci Carmen Clos

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