Questions about life and death are not purely individual matters for humans – after all, we are social beings. Nevertheless, autonomy over our bodies and selfdetermination are among society’s great assets. That explains the tendency in political debate and in the media to focus on the tension between individual needs and collective values, and also why there is so much emphasis on the different ways that groups in society judge what is good. Every new technology has its own specific features, but all new technologies raise the same questions, again and again. Innovations that we have examined in recent years include germline genetic modification, human-animal hybrids, human embryo research, regenerative medicine, the organ trade and risk assessment and legislation surrounding new technology.
The role of the Rathenau Instituut
It is the Rathenau Instituut’s aim to reveal how public values and specific interests evolve along with new technologies, to give voice to patients’ experiences (in addition to those of medical and ethical experts), and to show how new patterns of inclusion and exclusion can emerge. We shed light on new medical research and what is already possible in clinical practice, but also on the need for new frameworks.
Dialogue: images on ideal health
We initiate dialogue ourselves where necessary but note that many of these issues are already being discussed in society. It suits us to document the arguments and to ensure that societal and political debate is sensitive to various aspects. Where there is no debate, we use our expertise to support an inclusive discussion by others. We cooperate with the Health Council of the Netherlands and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, among others.
In recent years, our research has revealed the vulnerability of human beings in this area and shown that, in addition to moral considerations, economic interests also play a role: there is a lot of money to be made from our longing for a meaningful life and for perfection.Beauty, health, fertility, life and death are subjects that rouse feelings of uncertainty in us. A new concept of health is also emerging in which the boundary between illness and health is becoming blurred. The focus now is increasingly on the quality of life. We are also being told to take control of our own health.
But who is protecting us and our collective health when we ourselves cannot anticipate the risks or simply change our behaviour overnight, even with tools to monitor ourselves and with access to medical data, health coaches and apps? In the next two years, we intend to address these images of ideal health.