Jul 2010

Applying the Stem Cell Charter: Intellectual Freedom

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Charter Principle # 3: We support “Intellectual Freedom to exchange ideas in the spirit of international collaboration.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948) and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (United Nations, 1966) define the right to freedom of thought and expression (i.e. intellectual freedom) as a fundamental human right.

For scientists, this means the right to freely seek, receive and impart information and ideas. It also entails respect for other views and values. So basically, intellectual freedom is the right of an individual scientist (and the scientific community) to conduct their research, publish their findings and teach and speak without unjustified interference (e.g. political, religious, etc).

What does this mean for the future — and present — of stem cell science?

Stem cell science can only move forward if scientists have the freedom (and responsibility) to do their research, share their results and exchange ideas. This doesn’t mean that they should have free reign to do anything they want — their work must always comply with ethical and legal rules and regulations — but it does mean that an environment that values and supports the basic human right to intellectual freedom is vitally important, if not essential, to fulfilling the function of science by expanding and disseminating knowledge.

Rosario Isasi is a Research Associate at the Centre of Genomics and Policy at McGill University. Her hobbies include bioethics, bioethics and bioethics. (And stem cells and policy.)

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