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What is so special about nanotechnology?
Can ordinary citizens who have no background in science have a voice in how nanotechnology will shape our future ?
These questions were addressed with great enthusiasm for meeting the challenge, in the conference "Law and science of Nanotechnology: Perfect together ? A Public Discourse About the Emerging Issues of Our Times" held free of charge at the Musée d'histoire des sciences, Parc de La Perle du Lac 128 Rue de Lausanne Geneva Switzerland, Saturday August 17 2013, 7 :30 PM in Geneva (1:30 PM EST)
"Nanotechnology's revolution for commerce and industry can also hold the momentum for revolutionary change in public health", according to Ilise L Feitshans JD and ScM, Institut universitaire romand de santé au travail (IST) University of Lausanne, Vaud Switzerland and Doctoral Candidate « Forecasting Nano Law : Risk Management Protecting Public Health Under International Law » at the Geneva School of Diplomacy.
Nanotechnology is expected to represent about three trillion dollars of USA GDP by 2015. The presence of the products of applied nanotechnology grows daily, whether people know it or not; bombarding consumers with applications of nanotechnology in paint coatings, refrigerator linings, sun tan lotion and cosmetics. Scientists and governments agree that the application of nanotechnology to commerce poses important potential risks to human health and the environment, but the risks are unknown.
"No international organisation is stepping up to the challenge. While both the OECD and WHO have nanotechnology working groups, the only body which is currently drafting regulations is - an industry body, the International Standards Organisation (ISO). And it is open to question whether the protection of consumers - the protection of their right to health and a healthy environment - is really ISO's main concern and interest" said Tanja E.J. Kleinsorge, Head of the Secretariat, Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said, in her comments, Benefits and Risks of Nanotechnology: The Parliamentary Assembly's Position, Council of Europe.
Kleinsorge underscored that the Council of Europe is looking toward fiulling this void with itsa own guidelines balancing benefits and risks in the field of nanotechnology. 1 The guidelines should respect the precautionary principle while taking into account freedom of research and encouraging innovation; 2. They should allow for consistent application across borders and to all nanomaterials, regardless of their origin, their functional uses and biological fate; 3. They should seek to harmonise regulatory frameworks in order to lay down a common standard. This means common risk assessment and risk management methods, protection of researchers and workers in the nanotech industry, as well as consumer and patient protection and education, and reporting and registration requirements.
"An Assembly recommendation is not the end of the story: it is the start of the story", she further noted. The Committee of Ministers has asked the Council of Europe's Committee on Bioethics (DH-BIO) to comment, noting "It is always better to regulate before things go wrong"
"The philosophical lesson to be learned from the open presence of the Council of Europe here to day is that Governments can do more when they share more information with the people, encourage different learning patterns and support the individual. This requires thinking and planning long-term beyond the next election" according to Mme Nicola Furey Vice President of Earth Focus Foundation, Collonge-Bellerive, Geneva. In her comments " The Role of Science in Our Society: Can't Our Governments do MORE ?" she recalled the importance of education and empowerment of young people, in order to ensure that the best decisions are made when governments and industries partner to incubate new technologies that impact future generations.
"Together," Ilise Feitshans noted, " law and science have created and implemented policies that serve the greater social good ranging from preventing the threat of bankruptcy in the asbestos industry to averting the threat of nuclear holocaust."
Lessons learned from the late twentieth century initiatives that funded "Big Science" teach us that governments can use regulatory programs to supervise and promote risky new technologies, without creating a new race of genetically -engineered monsters or blowing up the whole world. Conversely, civilizations can be brought to a halt in times of plague and pestilence; and even the most impressive of collective efforts can be stopped when injuries overtake any individual's ability to work. Society therefore needs both: working people and healthy people, in order for civilization to survive. "There is already plenty of law. There is a vast and vibrant corpus of international human rights laws protecting health" Ilise noted. The notion that everyone needs health and the work from people who use their health to benefit society is called the legal principle of "universality" in international law. "Therefore, nanotechnology's arrival in commerce provides an unprecedented excellent opportunity to change society for the better, especially serving as the vehicle for driving positive social change and protecting human rights to health".
Ilise L Feitshans JD and ScM
Institute for Work and Health
University of Lausanne
Geneva School of Diplomacy
079 836 3965 021 314 9083
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