The ethics of technologies with high socio-economic impact and human rights relevance

Specific Challenge

Some technologies raise complex ethical issues that can have considerable socio-economic impact and generate lively debates on research ethics and Human Rights. The areas of genomics human enhancement and man-machine interactions are of particular importance due to their innovative nature and potential impact on jobs and growth. Although repairing an injured body is an accepted and welcome practice, genomics applications and a number of body and mental enhancements as well as the changing nature of the relationship between humans and machines (i.e. robots) raise complex ethical issues that need to be addressed at EU level. In order to promote an inclusive and sustainable socio-economic model, there is a pressing need to provide ethical responses and practical options which support innovation, the research community, facilitates the work of ethics committees and addresses the expectations of society.


While the work shall integrate the broad ethical perspectives of the emerging technologies, especially those with potentially high social and economic impact, the focus shall be on (a) genomics, in particular genetic testing and screening, genetic patents, genetic databanks and pharmacogenomics and (b) human enhancement, including a categorisation of human enhancement practices on the basis of social, medical and technical criteria and (c) human-machine interactions including the creation of intelligent environments. All the concerned technologies raise several interrelated ethical issues for which there is not yet a clear and stable framework at EU and international level.

A comparison, within the EU and with other regions of the world on both the legal framework (existing or under development) and the level of societal awareness and acceptance constitute therefore an important element of the work. Such an analysis shall integrate the role of ethics committees and other advisory and regulatory structures and examine the impact of these technologies while proving the necessary elements to support the research community in integrating the ethics dimension in their research protocols.

Building on and completing existing practices, the work undertaken shall result, for each of the three topics, with operational guidelines for research ethics committees as well as proposing a code of responsible conduct for researchers, taking into account the expectations of the different stakeholders. This shall be achieved by involving actively civil society organizations and panels of citizens from different socio-economic groups including vulnerable populations. As a result the possible enhancement of the existing ethical and legal frameworks shall be proposed while considering the rapid scientific evolution of the emerging fields.

The possibility to generalise the analysis to other new or emerging technologies shall be studied since a number of the conclusions that will be drawn could serve in other technological and research context raising similar ethical issues.

In line with the strategy for EU international cooperation in research and innovation (COM(2012)497), international cooperation is encouraged.

Publicly available results from relevant EU funded research projects (mainly from FP7) should be taken into account.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of the order of EUR 3.8 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

This action allows for the provision of financial support to third parties in line with the conditions set out in Part K of the General Annexes.

Expected Impact

The proposed action will contribute to the development and practical implementation of high ethics standards at EU and international level addressing the growing challenges and expectations vis-à-vis these technologies. The work undertaken will also offer concrete ways of better reconciling the needs of the research teams and the legitimate concerns of the citizens while stimulating innovation and contributing to the reduction of socio-economic inequalities including in health treatment and social status. Overall, it will contribute to the development of new approaches in addressing ethical issues of new and emerging technologies and promoting responsible conduct of research while enhancing the innovative nature and potential socioeconomic impact of these technologies.

Application date
Social sciences