The ECNH observes developments in gene and biotechnology and evaluates them from an ethical standpoint. It considers applications of these technologies to plants, animals and other organisms, and their impacts on humans and the environment.
The ECNH's key topics are:
Würde der Kreatur ("dignity of creation" or "dignity of living beings") - The Federal Constitution requires "account to be taken of the dignity of creation when handling animals, plants and other organisms". The ECNH's key tasks include putting this concept into concrete terms.
Release of genetically modified organisms - The ECNH evaluates "licence applications or planned research of fundamental or exemplary significance", in accordance with the Gene Technology Act and the decree of appointment by the Federal Council. Its mandate is to analyse and evaluate the objectives and impacts of human handling of genetically modified organisms, and to advise the enforcement authorities and the government from an ethical standpoint, with a view to future legislation.
Patents on plants and animals - The possibility of patenting inventions based on living organisms is a hotly debated topic, among the general public as well. An initial consultation procedure for a partial revision of the Patents Act was carried out in April 2002. Because of the very divisive responses, a second consultation was held in 2004.
Xenotransplantation - Xenotransplantation is the transfer of functioning cells, tissues, organs or body parts from one species to another, for example from an animal to a human being. A draft of the Transplantation Act entered the consultation phase in December 1999. After detailed debates in Parliament, the Act came into force in July 2007 (together with four implementing ordinances).
Impacts of Biotechnology on developing and threshold countries - While its advocates welcome the promotion of gene technology to combat hunger in developing and threshold countries, others warn of this technology?s having adverse impacts, in precisely these countries. Keywords in the discussion are food security, food sovereignty, technology transfer, and the just use of biological diversity.
Genetically modified food and animal feed - In evaluating food and animal feed made from genetically modified organisms, one generally considers whether a product is as safe or less safe for consumption than the equivalent traditional product ("substantial equivalence"). From an ethical point of view the consumers? freedom of choice in buying food also plays an important role.
Nanotechnology & nanobiotechnology - Nanotechnology involves structures smaller than one thousandth of a millimetre. Nanobiotechnology is the use of nanotechnology in life sciences, or the reverse: using biological materials or blueprints to manufacture technical nanosystems.
Synthetic biology - Synthetic biology is considered to be a particularly promising field of research. Its objective is to turn biotechnology into an engineering discipline. It especially concerns creating new, artificial life forms, which could be constructed like machines for particular tasks.