DISCUSSION DOCUMENT towards the establishment of a



1.         Background 


The purpose of this document is to

§         set out the background to the debate around ethics,

§         to review briefly the situation in the country in respect of the ethics debate and

§         to provide a motivation for the establishment of a National Consultative Committee on Ethics in Science and Technology in South Africa.

A separate document sets out a proposed charter for such a committee.

This document has been updated to reflect the input from a workshop on 3rd July 2001 which is principally to be found in Section 10 onwards.


There is very little awareness among the general public about the notion that the practice of science is generally governed by ethical considerations and that they have some rights and responsibilities in this regard. In South Africa, science has, by and large, proceeded as a law unto itself with very little intervention from the general public. The abuses of science as revealed at the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission attests to this assertion. Of note as well, is the silence by the science community on these abuses. There have been no concerted or visible attempts to mobilize awareness or to raise the consciousness of scientists about such abuses and to ensure that they are never repeated. South Africa is thus desperately in need of a mechanism to educate the South African public about ethics in science and ensure that public opinion and ethics are heeded in the practice of science.


South Africa’s readmission into the global community and the explicit political commitment to facilitating an African Renaissance provides the context for articulating unique national and regional positions in the arena of Science and Technology. Although South Africa has a diversity of specialized ethics committees serving the different areas of science, there is no ethics committee with an overarching mandate to monitor ethical practice across the whole spectrum of science and technology.


At the 15th NSTF Plenary meeting held on 18 March 1999, Judge Albie Sachs ( a respected judge of the Constitutional Court and an expert on Human Rights issues -- also a member of the International Commission on Bio-Ethics) gave a presentation on the UN Guidelines on Bio-Ethics with special reference to the South African situation. He challenged SA to become involved in the UNESCO Ethics programme administered from Paris, France.


A delegation of the NSTF attended the "World Conference on Science" held between June and July 1999 in Budapest. On their return and after reflecting on the papers presented on ethics in developing countries, they proposed that a national committee be set up with a broad mandate to deal with all issues relating to ethics in Science and Technology.


In March 2000 a visit was arranged for Mr Georges Kutukdjian, the Senior Director of the Division of Ethics in Science and Technology at UNESCO to South Africa to address the 17th plenary of the NSTF and during his stay he conducted a workshop and addressed various seminars and groupings around the country. His recommendations are set out in this paper



Note. In the original version of the document the proposed committee was titled the National Ethics Committee (NEC). This has been changed throughout this document as well as in the draft Charter for consistency and to avoid confusion.

2.             Defining the Notion of Ethics

To facilitate a common platform and basis for discussion and deliberation, this section attempts to frame the notion of ethics and to offer tentative definitions for our purposes.


In its most comprehensive form ethics may be described as a philosophical discipline, primarily concerned with the evaluation and justification of norms and standards of personal and interpersonal behaviour.

A standard general definition from the Oxford English Dictionary refers to “the science of morals, the study concerned with the principles of human duty”. For Homan (1991) ethics is the science of morality and those who engage in it determine values for the regulation of human behaviour.

Homan argues, however, that when ethics is applied and developed within a particular professional context such as medicine or social research, it takes on a distinctive form and the general definitions and philosophical accounts become inappropriate.


Ethics is often treated as the study of moral questions and morality as the quality or standard of actual conduct. Debates and professional statements, which pass for ethical practice in research, are often highly prescriptive and too closely applied to the realities of the research situation without reference to wider contextual issues.


Grace (1998) concurs and challenges the technicist conceptions of research that helps sanction and reproduce the myth of objectivity. He argues that there is a need for researchers to write accounts, which show the limitations of technicism, the ideological and historical struggles behind the assumed logic and sequence of objectivity. An abandonment of the pretensions of a recontextualised form of natural science begins by recognizing that it is pre-eminently a humane study with a humane intent. This implies a culture, which is participative, critically reflexive, culturally sensitive and intent upon the enhancement of human potential and the dignity of persons.


Raidt (2000) argues that in recent years political leaders have appealed for help to restore the moral fibre of the nation. For example, President Mbeki referred recently to morality, ethics and spirituality as essential facets in the search for the moral renaissance of our society. For Raidt then, ethics is concerned with what is good for human beings, and for the flourishing of human societies. In defining the good, we seek to determine the conditions necessary to promote well being, health and happiness of all, and pre-empt what would be destructive.


Ethics then is the philosophical sub-discipline that reflects methodically and systematically on the questions of what is morally good; it reflects about morality. Ethics cannot produce morality and as times change, we need to constantly re-evaluate and re-articulate the broader ethical vision that informs our moral codes.


In conclusion, ethics as a practical discipline demands the acquisition of both knowledge of moral principles and rules, and skills on their application to the problems of daily life and decision-making. Sound ethical practice presupposes the development in individuals and society of corresponding virtues and shared values based on universal principles, and reasoned debate that demystifies power relations and clarifies the basis of power sharing. Given the South African context it is hardly necessary to expound further on the range of unresolved dilemmas and challenges our predicament forces us to confront.


3.       Key Principles of Ethics

The key principles of ethics are well documented and may be stated as follows:

§                     Respect for human beings (Ubuntu or Botho)

§                     Beneficence (improvement of the well-being of human beings)

§                     Justice (concept of equity and equality)



4.                   Rationale

4.1 Input from Kutukdjian and other thinkers


In his presentation to the recent NSTF plenary, Kutukdjian (2000) pointed out that “the scientific research community now considers that ethical reflection is part and parcel of development in this field and that this implies a constant questioning of the why’s and wherefores of our actions”. He maintains that the reflective debate that will be engendered by ethical committees should be conducted in public with the informed participation of citizens and decision-makers and as such should be regarded as a democratic necessity. He states further that


Scientific progress brings with it short-term and long term changes whose repercussion must be assessed from an ethical standpoint. The globalization of risks does not necessarily imply a globalization of solutions, which are often regional or national. It is therefore necessary to seek and adopt solutions that respond to the diversity.


He further expressed the belief that scientific progress and technological innovation have never before shaped economic modes of production, social relations and lifestyles in the critical way that they do today. Society and decision-makers are becoming increasingly aware of the potential impact of this new form of power as they gauge the consequences of the spectacular progress and the changes wrought in daily life by science and its applications.


Raidt (2000) refers to the moral crises that rebound into an ethical one as we search for ethical solutions to modernity’s problems.


Worldwide there is recognition of the need for ethical reflection to underpin scientific research and foresee the impact of it applications.


This has resulted in the establishment of ethics commissions, councils and committees of which the following typology according to Kutukdlian is typical:


a)                   at the local level a committee could be attached to a local hospital for guidance about questions raised in connection with hospital practices

b)                   at institutional levels an ethics research review board attached to tertiary institutions or a research funding agency is expected to examine protocols from an ethical standpoint

c)                   at the professional level committees will deal with esoteric disciplinary matters relating to medical ethics or mental health practices

d)                   at the national level an ethics committee or commission gives its opinion or formulates recommendations on topics submitted to it by various governmental bodies or civil society role players.


This structure is considered to be important since the institutions serve different purposes and fulfil different functions and its existence is therefore important. What becomes critical is that there needs to be co-ordination and interaction between the various levels and some consolidation of national positions and protocols to guide behaviour.


He strongly recommended that South Africa set up an independent national ethics committee  which was holistic in nature and would make pronouncements on ethical issues. This committee does not need to both player and referee as has been the case in earlier times.

4.2 South African situation

In South Africa , attempts are being made by different institutions, associations and Government Departments to address the issues of ethics. These include

a)                   Academic institutions and Research Councils.

Efforts are being made by these bodies to improve or establish acceptable codes of ethics in accordance with the ICH Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice that have their origins in the declaration of Helsinki. Some of these institutions are offering courses on ethics to their students.


b)                   Pharmaceutical Industries

These industries are doing their best to keep up with modern requirements on ethics. They are involved in desseminating information and training investigators on ethical issues.


c)                   Government Departments

A number of government departments are also responding to the almost regular reports on the violations of ethics in science.

§         The Department of Health has recently concluded a consultative process around the creation of a national health research ethics committee, which culminated in the establishment of an interim-working group. The latter will soon become a ministerially appointed steering committee, which will operate until a new body is formally constituted.

§         The Department of Arts, Culture, Science, and Technology (DACST) has also expressed its concern about the need for ensuring that South Africa has a policy and regulatory framework for understanding the social impact of innovative projects and their applications of new technologies. The intention is to ensure that as we progress and become more competitive globally, we will not damage our social fabric and cultural foundations irreparably.

§         Similar reverberations have been experienced in the Agricultural Research Council as it grapples with the new unknowns of genetically modified organisms in terms of the larger issues of radically reconfiguring the world as we know it and the long term effects on public health and the environment. Protection of the environment in the face of promoting sustainable development and a better quality of life for indigenous communities is another emerging area of concern.


It is hoped that the establishment of a National Consultative Committee on Ethics in Science and Technology in South Africa. will assist in closing the gaps between the ambits of the different subject-specific committees and assemble a more comprehensive picture on the total situation. The committee is also expected to stimulate public debate on issues which are country/region-specific and are not sufficiently covered by existing conventions. For example, it is doubtful whether ethical issues related to HIV/AIDS, a scourge of the developing countries, are sufficiently covered by existing international conventions.


4.3 Situation in developing Countries


Developing countries are also putting a lot of faith on science as a vehicle for development yet this faith is not backed by sufficient checks and balances with regard to ethical matters related specifically to the values of these countries. In other words, while science is expected to improve the quality of life of people, there is also the danger that it emasculates the people by robbing them of the right and ability to decide what is desirable and acceptable. Developing countries have therefore an added responsibility for demystifying the concepts of science to the larger society and building bridges between indigenous concepts and norms and science.


At the Conference of Heads of State and Governments of the Organization for African Unity (OAU) at its 32nd ordinary session (Yaounde, Cameroon 8-10 July , 1996  a resolution was adopted AHG/254

Which  "pledges to set up (ethics) consultative bodies at both country and inter-African levels to promote the exchange of experience obtained among such bodies."



4.4 Advice from UNESCO and the UN

The United Nations has also mandated the need for the establishment of National Ethics Committees. The United Nations Human Rights Commission, at its 53rd session in April 1997, adopted resolution 1997/71 on Human Rights and Bioethics” inviting Governments to consider establishing

§         independent,

§         multidisciplinary and

§         pluralist committees of ethics”,

in cooperation with UNESCO. In November 1995, the 28th session of the General Conference stressed the importance of ethics committees by adopting Resolution 28 C/2.2. which “invites the Director-General to provide assistance to those States which may request it for the creation of national ethics committees to be concerned with the protection of universally recognized rights and freedoms"

In line with this resolution, the South African National Commission for UNESCO, approached the Director of the Division of the Ethics of Science and Technology at UNESCO to assist in the formulation of an approach to the establishment of a National Ethics Committee in South Africa and this led to his visit ion March 2000.


This position was re-emphasized at the 29th session of the UNESCO General Conference on 11th November 1997 at which "The Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human

Rights " was adopted. The text of the 1995 resolution was repeated in Clause 16 of the Declaration and the three conditions above are re-stated. Under this article the national ethics committees must meet three conditions :

§         They must enjoy a degree of independence that provides for full and free discussion,

§         they must be multi-disciplinary so that the issues raised can be properly grasped

§         They must include not only scientists and jurists but also philosophers, specialists in the human sciences (anthropologists, sociologists, etc. ) and representatives of civil society such as NGO's as well as minority groups or representatives of women and youth organizations.


The threefold vocation of national ethics committees are stressed:


§         They must conduct ethical reflection on progress in science and technology and must take account of the arguments that might be put forward by researchers and practitioners as well as the various demands made by society. This task of reflection that goes together with scientific progress must also look ahead to issues that may arise in the future.


§         They must fulfil an advisory role. Ethical reflection leads to the formulation of guiding principles which draw inspiration from universally recognized rights and freedoms, and detailed advisory opinions. In this way, the ethics committees will enlighten the lawmaker and, in general, those public and private sector managers in the decision-making process. Furthermore, by defining the rules of conduct, they may also guide researchers and practitioners in their activities.


§         The national bio-ethics committees must foster education, training and information in this field for specialist groups as well as for the public at large. They must encourage a broad public debate, with the participation of the scientists. Thus they will re-inforce the process by which society as a whole as well as its members individually become aware of the responsibilities incumbent upon them in the face of the issues raised by scientific research and their applications. This action is indispensable to enabling informed participation by all the actors in the choices that society will have to make in these fields.


5.             Overview of Selected International Models


This section presents a selective summary of trends from several long-established national commissions, councils and committees, and also refers to some more recently created ones.

At present, such committees exist in every region of the world to name but a few, for example:


Australia, Bulgaria, Chile, Cuba, Cameroon, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Ecuador, France, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Tunisia, USA, and the UK.


The structure, organization and functioning of these bodies differ greatly and reflect political and national choices. Some of these have been constituted by executive or ministerial order, others by parliamentary actions. Others have been initiated as an outcome of a national conference or at the insistence of a non-governmental or private organization. They most often resort under medical councils or might be attached to a para-governmental institutions. Although they might be located under the jurisdiction of a particular ministry or entity, every attempt is made to ensure that their “findings” and considered opinions are widely disseminated and have the legitimate impact on the necessary structures and mechanisms.


5.1        Common Characteristics


A comparative analysis of the characteristics of the major institutions reveals some common characteristics.

§         They fulfill a consultative function furnishing advice and opinions to all institutions that approach them. Standpoints taken have a significant influence on government and parliamentary decision-making bodies.

·         They establish ongoing dialogue and intellectual platforms to provide opportunities for different regions and provinces to come together and share their views on critical issues. National Ethics Committees then identify the major underlying principles involved. In this connection it has to be acknowledged that there is a great need to make the work of researchers more widely known. While it is for the latter to make an effort in terms of communication and openness so as to build an atmosphere of trust, it is patently urgent to ensure that the dissemination of scientific and technological information does not give rise to disparities either within countries or between communities. By establishing dialogue between scientists (who are those primarily concerned with and responsible for ensuring the communication of scientific information), public and private decision-makers and the general public, such committees can assist in developing according to ethical principles , the relationships of scientific communities to each other and with the societies to which they belong.

·         Ethical reflection presupposes public debate, with informed citizens participating enabling policy-makers to take fully considered decisions. The extent to which citizenry is able to engage will determine what steps need to be taken to ensure equity and access to information.

·         They fulfil an advisory role in areas involving far reaching societal issues and pre-empting  future scenarios. Proactive consideration of the extent to which new technologies are acceptable and an understanding of their impact is another important dimension.

·         Promoting dialogue between scientific communities, decision-makers and the public at large helps demystify scientific knowledge and its applications.

In this connection it has to be acknowledged that there is a great need to make the work of researchers better known. Furthermore, while it is for the latter to make an effort in terms of communication and openness so as to build an atmosphere of trust, it is patently urgent to ensure that the dissemination of scientific and technological information does not give rise to disparities either between countries or within communities. By establishing dialogue between scientists (who are those primarily concerned and responsible for ensuring the communication of scientific information), public and private decision-makers and the general public, such committees can assist in developing, according to ethical principles, the relationships of scientific communities among themselves and with the societies to which they belong.


The charters constituting these committees decide their composition, criteria and the processes for appointing members and specify the modalities of their functioning. In most cases, their composition is multidisciplinary, ensuring that they include at least, doctors, researchers, jurists and philosophers. Some of them provide for the participation of representatives of different trends of thinking, religious beliefs and forms of sensitivity, while others have a place for representatives of civil society. The way in which their members are appointed varies to a very great extent. It tends to be related to the composition of the committee, which may be mixed or may stipulate statutory consultations.



5.2 Comparative Models


We now turn to a matrix summary of the models considered to be most relevant for the South African context.

5.2.1  Norway (16 May 1990)





Term of






Budgets and


Membership Criteria

Ministry of Education, Research  and Church Affairs


Appointments made on the recommendation of the Research Council of Norway

3 years possibly re-appointed

9 members representative of natural sciences, industry, technology, agriculture, fisheries, ecology and modern biotechnology

2 lay members


Competence in relevant research disciplines

Professional competence in ethics and law


Unique Features


Ø       Report on its activities at an open meeting at least once a year and in what ever ways it finds suitable for promoting informed discussions of ethical issues in the broader society

Ø       Keep other national and international research ethics committees informed of its activities, and in co-operation with them seek to establish a platform of principles of research ethics which transcends disciplinary boundaries

Ø       Committee proceedings made available for inspection by the public


5.2.2 USA:  National Bioethics Advisory Commission Charter





Term of






Budgets and


Membership Criteria

Provides advice/  recommendations to the National Science and Technology Committee (NSTC), Federal Agencies, appropriate entities and makes public its advice and recommendations


Overlapping 4 year terms


Initially members appointed for 2,3 or 4 years

18 members appointed by President


At least one member shall be selected from each of the following categories of primary expertise




social science




medicine/allied health professions


biological research


At least 3 members selected from general public bring expertise other than as listed

Dept of Health and Human Services


provides necessary funds for performance of functions


DHSS provides management and support services


Annual cost estimate

$500 000

Knowledgeable non-government experts and community representatives with special qualification and competence to deal effectively with bioethical issues


Balanced number of scientists and non-scientists


Equitable geographic distribution, ethnic and gender representation



Unique Features


Ø       Purview includes the appropriateness of departmental agency or other governmental programmes, policies, assignments, missions, guidelines and regulations relating to bioethical issues arising from research on human biology and behaviour and applications of that research. The identification of broad overarching principles to govern the conduct of research, citing individual projects as principled illustrations, is another function.

Ø       Four criteria are considered in establishing priorities for activities:

1.                   public health or public policy urgency of the bioethical issues

2.                   relation of bioethical issues to the goals for federal investment in Science and technology

3.                   absence of another body to deliberate fruitfully on the bioethical issue

4…extent of interest in the issue to government.


Ø       The annual report  to the NSTC and appropriate committees of congress shall minimally contain a list of members and business addresses, dates an places of meetings, summary of annual activities and recommendations and a summary of responses made by departments, agencies, and other entities it has engaged with.

Ø       Compensation: Members may be compensated at a predetermined rate plus expenses.


5.2.3          French - National Consultative Ethics Committee for Health and Life Science





Term of






Budgets and


Membership Criteria

Minister of Research


 39 members

5 appointed by president

( philosophers and spiritual leaders)


19 competent individuals reflecting broad spectrum of ethical concerns such as gender, environment, developmental issues, S&T advances and applications


15 nominees from the research sector

(scientists and practitioners)


Combination of appointed and nominated persons respected for their contributions to ethical issues.


Culture of voluntary contributions to this prestigious task is evident.


Members receive no additional remuneration.


5.2.4           Danish Council of Ethics ( Act No 33, 3 June 1987)





Term of






Budgets and


Membership Criteria

Ministry of Health


3 years possibly re-appointed

17 members appointed according to rules :


8  general members


9 members appointed by parliament outside of governance structures


equal representation of men and women


Minister produces annual budget

Considered for their publicly substantiated knowledge of the ethical, cultural and social questions on importance to the work of the committee



Unique Features


Sections 4-7 of the Act focuses heavily on establishing rules for the protection of the fertilized human ova, living embryos and foetuses; genetic treatment on human gametes used for fertilization, new diagnostic techniques in order to detect congenital defects or diseases in fertilized human ova, embryos and foetuses and the rules for cryopreservation of gametes.



5.2.5          Australia – National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)


This model is insightful in terms of its unique composition and attempt at integrating all facets of the work. Extracted from the inside guide to the NHMRC for the 1997-1999 triennium: Part 3: Section C : the Australian Health Ethics Committee





Term of






Budgets and


Membership Criteria




18 members form the following



ethics of medical research




public health

social science

clinical medical practice

nursing/allied health practices

regulation of

medical profession

health consumer issues

understanding concerns of disabled

No more than 2 who have relevant  expertise

3 members of other principles as stipulated in the NHMRC Act 1992







5.2.6           The British Human Genetics Commission


A document is available but not in electronic format which sets out the structure of the UK system. It is beyond the scope of this document to tease out this complicated structure which integrates all manner of mechanisms and structures within a broader context, and also provides an historical account and update of legal and legislative processes. Attention is drawn to the useful section on page 20, describing inter-governmental initiatives regarding the ethical implications of developments in human genetics Copies may be obtained from the NSTF Secretariat.


6.       The boundary between Ethics in Science and Technology and Ethics in Health Sciences

6.1 General

Where it is argued, as might be inferred from the material in these documents, that the health sciences are but one of the sciences and therefore that the co-ordinating role of a national Science and Technology Ethics committee would embrace the co-ordination of the work in the health sciences together with that of the other sciences, it may seem that this might risk some overlapping and conflict in that the bulk of all the work would seem to be in the area of health.

A catalogue of the subject areas is set out to illustrate that there are significant areas of non-health matters, and while the area of health does indeed have many important issues to deal with, it is equally important that the other areas are not overlooked. It is important that there is co-ordination between the sciences to avoid this co-ordination taking place at a political level. It follows that the national committee should avoid interference in the work of a specialist committee and rather limit itself to ensuring that the composition and structure of such committees reflects all opinions.


6.2 Ethics on Health Sciences

This category might include the following:

Ø                   Medical , dental and associated disciplines

Ø                   Medical Research Councils and Institutions,

Ø                   Pharmaceutical Industries

Ø                   Alternative Medicine and Traditional Health Practitioners

Ø                   Para-medical practitioners. And

Ø                   Any other health sciences associated practices

6.3 Ethics in Natural Sciences and Technology

These may include the following

Ø                   Bio-ethics(bio-technologies)

Ø                   Energy sources

Ø       Fossils (coal, natural gas and oil)

Ø       Nuclear

Ø       Renewables (bio-mass, hydro, solar , wind-power)

Ø                   Fresh water resources

Ø                   Intellectual property

Ø                   Industries

Ø       Mining

Ø       Manufacturing

Ø       Agriculture

Ø       Military

Ø       Chemical

Ø                   Environmental policy(space, land and sea)

Ø                   Any other science and technology matter


7.  Workshop Inputs Towards a South African Model


This section summarises the inputs from the Midrand Workshop of the NSTF held in March 2000.


7.1  Characteristics of National Consultative Committee on Ethics in Science and Technology in South Africa.


South Africa needs an overarching coherent mechanism for promoting public debate and deepening understanding of ethical dilemmas and issues relating to Science and Technology in the South African context. The National Consultative Committee on Ethics in Science and Technology in South Africa. as proposed by UNESCO may provide such a mechanism. The Committee will provide a platform for entrenching ethical reflection as a means of consolidating democratic values and practices. In other words, the committee would have a wide-ranging educational and information-disseminating mandate in support of our democracy and commitment to the respect of human rights.


The operation of the committee would have to take into account the diversity of South Africa’s cultural context. This means that the evolving model of the National Consultative Committee on Ethics in Science and Technology in South Africa. would be unique in that it embodies both the western and non-western components of our society. The Committee would however, attempt to take non-partisan positions at all times to arrive at the most rational, considered and transparent opinions and advice. This neutral stance is meant to ensure that the Committee is accessible to all sectors of our society. The Committee will consider all matters presented by the civil society and the Government and also, when appropriate, initiate investigations on its own accord in the public interest. The Committee will form working relationships with other discipline-specific ethics committees. However, it would operate from a broader mandate, which is concerned with ethical underpinnings in science and technology.


7.2        Remit and Functions


The Committee will have an advisory role that harnesses intellectual energies of our country and be a catalyst for promoting and entrenching ethical behaviour in science and technology. Whereas professional and discipline-based ethical bodies would be charged with regulatory, monitoring and control responsibilities, the National Consultative Committee on Ethics in Science and Technology in South Africa. would give guidance and direction on crosscutting ethical matters. Its mandate would embrace matters relating to social, natural and economic spheres, which are affected by science and technology. In other countries, the remit of national ethics committees is exclusively science and technology, however, in South Africa science and technology is embedded within a context of Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS). The National Consultative Committee on Ethics in Science and Technology in South Africa. would thus have to take cognizance of the contributions and challenges posed by our IKS.


The National Consultative Committee on Ethics in Science and Technology in South Africa. will provide a forum for expert discussion and critique of ethical issues, as well as topical and contentious issues in Science and Technology. The Committee will present to civil society and government, balanced and considered views and not agitate for any specific outcomes, neither be responsible for the modifications to policy guidelines or their implementation.


The Committee will facilitate working relationships with research institutes and organizations and may commission research on any specific issue. This would give local practitioners, activists and academics, the opportunity to make valuable contributions to the resolution of national issues. The Committee will ensure that national debates take cognizance of international experience and trends and in return contribute insights and recommendations to relevant international agencies and processes.


8.         The Proposed South African Model --NCCEST


The draft charter of the National Consultative Committee on Ethics in Science and Technology in South Africa. (NCCEST) has been developed with the help of a reference group of the NSTF, on the basis of this brief overview of some selected international models and the ideas generated at the Midrand Workshop of the NSTF held in March 2000. This is a separate document


9.   The Way Forward for Establishing the National Consultative Committee on Ethics in Science and Technology in South Africa.


9.1   This document will be used as a motivational basis for the NCCEST, together with the draft charter and will be made available to the reference group consisting of all the workshop participants to include identified experts (moral philosophers, applied philosophers, theologians) and a selection of religious and spiritual leaders, known to be active in the area. The documents will then be amended on the basis of the input received from time to time as directed by the reference group.


9.2 A national consultative conference planned for March 2002 will deliberate on these documents

 and reach final conclusions.

The outcomes and results of the processes for nominating and electing the members of the NCCEST could also be announced.



Authors of the original version of this document

:  Dr B. Tema (General-Secretary, UNESCO SA Commission) and

   Mrs R. Prinsloo, Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria.


10.        Further Development of the Charter


10.1                  Version two has been produced incorporating material from a paper by Dr James Hlongwane presented at the Medical Ethics 2000 Conference 21-23 August at the VW Conference Centre,

adjustments to delete material included in the Charter and other matters , by D. F. Hunt.


10.2            Version 3 was produced in April 2001 as a result of a meeting of the Reference group and was used as the basis of the Workshop in July 2001. The comments that accompanied that version are set out in the Annex for the record.

10.3            Version 4 has been produced to deal with the commentary necessary on the changes introduced to the charter as a result of the 3rd July Workshop. Not all the comments have been captured in the commentary since we relied on notes. However we did the best we could.


Comments are set out in the following clauses and the actions taken to deal with them. The clause numbers quoted are the new numbers of version 4.

10.3.1            Some concern was expressed about the non-statutory position of the NSTF and that a better home for the NCCEST might be as a sub-unit of a statutory body.

Action: At this stage whilst there may be validity in the comment the position of a standalone unit under the NSTF, which is a legal entity, is a starting point which could work. Until a definite alternative option is indicated as preferred, it may just create confusion to change the text or provide alternatives for other possible homes on the off-chance that this might happen.

Note added before clause 3.4

10.3.2            A further concern was that by defining an advisory role the approach was being too ambitious and that it was preferable to adopt a consultative position to start with. The difference between these is that an advisory body has a more definitive status. The status of a consultative body is less definitive and implies a more optional position.

Action The title, acronym etc have all been changed. In addition Clause 1 has been extended and the clauses 1.2 , 1.3 have been re-located to clause 3. The definitions have been moved forward to Clause 2 since the elements being defined were already occurring in the text. Some minor consolidation has then also occurred.


10.3.3            Concerns were expressed that this committee would be duplicating the work being done in the medical committee and at universities. It was suggested that to remedy this we define more pre-eminently a co-ordinating role.

            Action: Clauses 1, 5.1.2 and 5.6.2 amended, 5.1.1 added

10.3.4   Define medical science more closely. Define science more closely

Action:I really would prefer to have a chapter and verse proposal. We have put in definitions for science, technology and science and technology in Clause 2. I think we do not now need a definition for medical science per se. The definitions are simple a workable.

10.3.5.  Look at research ethics in the areas where there were gaps

Action: The objectives and functions have been re-defined to allow for this See 1, 5.1.1, and 5.1.2

10.3.6 Make it clear that science and technology includes the understanding of knowledge and


Action:-Have tried to incorporate this idea in the definitions.see Clause 2 Specific proposals where the text is deficient are needed.

10.3.7 The charter should say what NECST does not do

            see Clause5.4

10.3.8      A question was raised as to whether the secretariat form of administration or the EXCO form was preferred and had a deliberate choice been made?

Response. The secretariat role was selected deliberately since the decision-making should be in the hands of the Committee to the greatest degree. However this can be adjusted as time progresses if it proves to be impractical. The staff should include professional support so that adequate analyses are made on material presented to the NCCEST.

10.3.9      The definition of ethics should include  "and legally "

Action: Words included in Clause 2. (DFH Comment : Are we sure that this is needed?)

10.3.10     In Clause 5.3 , it was felt that the task of reviewing was too ambitious

Action: This has now been excluded. See revised 5.3. and 5.4.

10.3.11   The environment and hence ethical questions in relation to the animal world should not be omitted. The purpose and objectives seemed to need tighter definition

Response: By including environment these are now covered . However it should be noted that most national committees do restrict themselves to the human domain; this was the advice of the UNESCO representatives.

Action: Clause 3.2 tightened up

10.3.12   Concerns that the words "offset the impacts of globalisation" was not necessarily a negative and might rather be deleted

Action  4th bullet in the objectives deleted

10.3.13 It was suggested that the co-nomination method for the determination of the membership was simpler and more likely to achieve the reach needed than the method proposed.

Response. I have drafted an alternative version of 6.3.3 and perhaps we should ask for a response from the committee.



Annex 1


This Annex comprises the comments which were inserted into the text of Version 3. The comment numbers have been replaced by the clause numbers  of the Version 3 document. This is included here for completeness of the process


Comment 1 Clause 1 Prof Hattingh :The environment has been mentioned a number of times in papers forming the background to the charter.

DFH response We just need to be careful that we don't make the scope too broad. Most of the European committees tend to focus on issues related to humans and to leave the world of animals for example out, or at least to others.


Comment 2 Clause 1 Tony Emmet has a concern. Will NEACST be exclusively concerned with the misuse of knowledge, or will it also involve itself with the misuse of power by individuals located within the various structures that manage knowledge. It will be difficult for NEACST to promote ethical practice in S and T if those that head knowledge production and management  organisations are not seen to be accountable and above moral approach

DFH Comment. It is difficult to comment without a specific proposal, However , Mr Kutukdjian emphasized that a body such as this should restrict itself to pronouncements , i.e. giving an opinion and that the normal bodies of society should deal with legislation and enforcement. I think that if this committee was to pass judgment on the actions of others this could be problematic without the due process which is technically undertaken in a court of law.


Comment 3 (Clause 1.1 para2 )DFH: We agreed to this title, and therefore a more definite position seems to be valid


Comment 4( Clause 1.3) DFH The insertion of this clause was inspired by comments by Prof Hattingh calling for clarity on how the NEACST would be closed down. The question on how it would be established is also not dealt with. Hence some comment on a possible basis for the start. The subsequent note has been adjusted for the same reason.


Comment 5 (Clause 1.4.4 )See comment from Tony Emmet probably comment 7


Comment 6 (previous Clause 1.4) Relocated to section 7


Comment 7 DFH (Clause 3.): I think we are going to need at least a formal letter. What do we have to do to get a notice in the Govt Gazette?


Comment 8 (Clause 5.3) Prof Hattingh comment: since the aim of this clause is to narrow down the field the addition of the words gives better effect to this objective. Without the words the clause could be interpreted too broadly


Comment 9 (Clause 5.4) Comment by Tony Emmet. He suggests in his comments that this imposes constraints which may be difficult to operate and rather suggests that the committee should be accessible to all sectors of our society. The secretariat would then schedule the work by ensuring that inappropriate questions are sent to more appropriate and , subordinate bodies

DFH response: I think that by this clause , we are not aiming to make the committee inaccessible to all sectors of society. We are rather saying that questions should only be addressed when a significant segment of society has decided that it wants a pronouncement  on a topic , which by implication, it would accept and respond to by appropriate legislative or other executive action or at least that that is the intent. Such bodies or persons would need to be pressurised by the elements of society such as individuals in a preliminary phase . NECST cannot be exploring topics simply for interest or curiosity(and please this is not meant to be offensive since I am sure you did not intend this interpretation).  Possibly the second item of the clause "organs of civil society" needs to be more clearly defined ( and I have made a suggestion for that purpose). At present it could be any sort of group with a letterhead that could fit the definition. I have re-ordered the list and added some words to define the group such that it is restrictive and open to at least some more precise interpretation.


Comment 10 (Clause 5.5 )Prof Hattingh feels that there are many functions for the NECST and that some clearer distinction between the core functions , (i.e. making pronouncements to advise legislators and regulators) and the lesser priority functions (which are really for the secretariat to perform as a secondary level) should be made.

DFH I have therefore re-arranged the clauses here to give prominence to this distinction.


Comment 11 (Clause 5.6.3 )  Tony Emmet. Feels that the avoidance of duplication is too limiting as a reason for this liaison and proposes an addition here. He actually feels it could be another function (which I have not shown).

DFH response: I think that we need to be wary of a too centralist approach to the ethics structure. I think that we can't afford to have internecine strife between this Council and specialist bodies . The words I have suggested seem to be a compromise that might meet your concern but which limits the authority of the NEACST over other bodies.


Comment 12 (Clause 5.6.9 ) DFH Since this is a body which will need to manage quite a lot of money, I have beefed up the clauses on responsibility for finances.


Comment 13 (Clause 6.1.2 ) Comment from Tony Emmet.(I have summarised it ) Has a concern about how these individuals would be elected, and sees overlap between this section and the next and possibly 6.1.5 The constituencies don't obviously coincide with identifiable organisations particularly .6.1.2. and 6.1.3.  Setting up an election mechanism which is fair and transparent could be difficult and costly. Suggests that the process could take place at a regular consultative national conference. I.e. which is held say every three years where it could be fairly simple. He suggests that the Presidential appointments could be increased to 12 and that these sectiona be reduced and that this be done afterwards in a manner which would ensure that all the gaps have been filled. I have attempted to put in some wording in 6.3 to address his suggestion here.

DFH Comment. The committee was earlier pretty clear that it didn't want to be overwhelmed by Presidential appointments so I suspect that that won't fly. I concede that otherwise Tony has a point about the elections  I fear that elections at a conference or meeting tend to be majoritarian --what happens if it rains on the day and no-one comes?  I think we must at east allow for a sectoral approach which gives for more diversity. as a fall-back. The clauses I have developed try to deal with the concerns raised by us both.


Comment 14 (Clause 6.2.4 )Prof Hattingh Missed reference to the Chairperson and Deputy Chair in 7.3

DFH Response. Because it is here. But have added a Deputy Dhairperson


Comment 15 (Clause 6.3 ) DFH The changes to this section are associated with Tony Emmet's comment which now appears as Comment 12 although I have developed the changes to the text.

Comment 16 (Clause 6.3.5 ) I have inserted this clause to recognise the problem raised by Tony Emmet in respect of constituencies and it may need to be adjusted to suit the realities.


Comment 17 (Clause 6.5 ) DFH Based on Prof Hattingh's comments it seems we need to have a clause that covers this matter. It is based on the clause in the NSTF constitution for EXCO members


Comment 18 (Clause 7.1) This is a consequential change flowing from a need to be more precise at this stage. I think that if there are too many ifs and buts it can be confusing as to what depends on what. If some other broad plan unfolds then all the clauses need to be changed together.


Comment 19 (Clause 7.2.2 )Inserted as a result of Prof Hattinghs general comment about performance.


Comment 20 (Clause 7.3.1)  Prof Hattingh Who are these principal officers?

DFH I have included a note of explanation and suggested modification


Comment 21 (Clause 7.3.2 ) Prof Hattingh raises the question of performance.

DFH  I have introduced this clause here and elsewhere have introduced some elements of the NSTF constitution which relate to performance issues.


Comment 22 (Clause 7.4.7 ) DFH has introduced this clause here in the belief that this will add value. I think we want to try to avoid minority reports and to do this there should be an encouragement of concensus seeking which implies attempts to accommodate each other.


Comment 23 (Clause 7.4.7 duplicated numbersing)Prof Hattingh says since avoiding the political manipulation of science is one of the main objectives , independence from political manipulation is also a central value that should inform the structures and procedures of NEACST  What we had might therefore be seen a s a contradiction of what is said in para 2 in terms of political independence. Hence the proposal . It is now somewhat closer to bullet 1

DFH response. Accepted. I do think that it is distinct from bullet 1. I.e. matters of national interest are not always matters of public health or public policy.


Comment 24 (Clause 7.4.8 )Prof Hattingh. These activities have been omitted and should be included

 Prof Hattingh . same comment as 11. DFH developed words to cover. I think this is the usual wording for this type of thing and provides that non-members may do work either alone or in groups provided that there is a NEACST member who is answerable for it.

Comment 25 (Clause 7.4.8  para 2) Prof Hattingh Omissions are  :Changes to the Charter , Performance Evaluation and Dissolution.

DFH response I have endeavoured to put something in in the balance of the clauses.


Comment 26 (Clause 8 ) Prof Hattingh : This may help everyone involved to establish a clear picture of procedures, structures, people requirements, information inputs and time frames that will be needed to ensure a functional NEACST at the level envisioned in the charter


Comment 27 Annex Clause 1


Reference List


Grace, G. ( 1998) Critical Policy Scholarship: Reflections on the Integrity of Knowledge and Research. In Shacklock, G. and Smyth, J. (Eds) (1998) Being Reflexive in Critical Educational and Social Research. Falmer Press: London


Homan, R. (1991) The Ethics of Social Research. Longman: New York.


Kutukdijian, G.B. (2000) Ethics of Science and Technology: Public Debate and decision-making. Why do we need Ethics Committees? Paper presented to the 17th  NSTF Plenary Session Workshop, Midrand, Johannesburg. March 2000


Raidt, E. (2000) Introduction to a Leadership Seminar entitled “The Moral Renaissance: Government, Politics, Ethics and Spirituality.  Braamfontein, Johannesburg.  3-4 March 2000.


Shacklock, G. and Smyth, J. (Eds) (1998) Being Reflexive in Critical Educational and Social Research. Falmer Press: London


Tema, B. (1999) Bioethics in South Africa. Lead Article in MARANG, Newsletter of the South African National Commision for UNESCO. June 1999.


Tema, B. (2000) The Establishment of a National Ethics Committee in South Africa.  In The First Report of the South African National Commission for UNESCO (August 1998-January 2000), pages 35-38.