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2 June 2004

Prof. W. Eckart in Santiago: Bioethics Debate on the Beginning and End of Life

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Eckart, director of the Institute of Medical History at the University of Heidelberg, spoke at a seminar on "The Fight for Human Dignity: 10 Years of Discussion in Bioethics" in Santiago de Chile in late May — Event co-organised by the Heidelberg Latin America Centre

In collaboration with the Centre for Interdisciplinary Bioethical Studies and the Psychiatric Hospital of the Universidad de Chile, the Heidelberg Latin America Centre (an outstation of the University of Heidelberg) organised an international seminar at the Universidad de Chile in late May. The subjects on the agenda were experimental medicine, embryo protection, mercy killing/assisted suicide and the significance of the debate on the beginning and end of life in bioethics. The welcoming address was given by Dr. Walter Eckel, the administrative director of the Heidelberg Centre.

In his lectures "Experimental Medicine and the End of Life: Informed Consent, Assisted Suicide, Palliative Care" and "The Beginning of Life: Embryo Protection, In-Vitro Insemination, Abortion", Prof. Eckart pointed out that according to a Jamaican newspaper the Postinor 2 drug has led to an increase in the rate of HIV infections in some countries in Africa and South America. This "morning after" pill is sold over the counter in developing countries without prescription or any other kind of restrictions. At the same time, the use of other contraceptive resources like condoms is on the decline and the danger of HIV infection is on the increase.

According to Prof. Eckart, the ethical debate needs to centre not only around abortion but also around the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. This does not mean that Postinor 2 may not be a good contraceptive. "I live in a country with liberal legislation on abortion. And in emergency cases, for example after rape, I am in favour of this pill and I would even give it to my 14-year-old daughter," Eckart assured his audience.

"The governments have to decide whether this pill can be sold over the counter or not. In my view, a prescription should come with detailed information on the risks and side-effects," Eckart went on. In this connection he also mentioned the RU-486 abortion pill. Many women pin their hopes of safer abortion on it. In developing countries, illegal and unsuccessful abortion operations have cost many women their lives. "We must prevent the deaths of hundreds of women forced to resort to illegal and incompetent abortions because of their social situation. RU-486 has been legalised in a number of Catholic countries too," Eckart explained. For years it has been available on prescription in France, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Uschi Kohorst

Please address any inquiries to
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang U. Eckart
phone: 06221/548212, fax: 545457

Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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