European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has appointed new members of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) for a five-year term. Renata Veselská from Masaryk University is among the selected candidates.
The EGE is an independent, multidisciplinary body founded in 1991 that provides European policymakers with expert opinions in all areas where new ethical issues arise as a result of advances in science and technology. In addition to problems raised by the Covid-19 pandemic, the EGE has also addressed topics such as genome editing and artificial intelligence.
Renata Veselská, who works in the Section of Genetics and Molecular Biology at the Faculty of Science MU and in the Department of Medical Ethics at the Faculty of Medicine MU, considers her appointment as a member of the EGE to be not only her own professional success but also a success of Masaryk University as a prestigious academic institution. This is especially true because the Czech Republic has never had a representative in the EGE before and the former Eastern Bloc countries have been underrepresented in the group.
What was your motivation for becoming a candidate for membership in the EGE?
I have been interested in its activities for about 25 years, as it is the most important and influential ethics committee in Europe. However, I must admit that until last year I did not seriously consider that I would actually become a member of the EGE, because the selection of candidates is extremely competitive and only takes place once every five years when the Commission’s mandate is renewed. While members of the EGE are appointed on the basis of their professional qualifications and not as representatives of their countries, you could count the members from the former Eastern Bloc countries that have served on the EGE since its establishment on one hand. However, when the last call was released, I was asked by several people if I wanted to give it a try. So, after considering the matter, I decided that I would submit my candidacy.
What would you like to achieve in EGE?
The EGE is not a group for which you would run with a “manifesto” or a vision of specific things that you would want to achieve there. It is about serving the interests of the whole – I come with my expertise, which includes both bioethics and molecular biology, as well as all my professional and personal experience. So do the other newly appointed members. I have no doubt that our common interest will be that the EGE continues to function well as a group. The main focus of our work will be to provide well-informed expert opinions to the President of the European Commission and to the entire College of Commissioners. Additionally, the EGE serves as a reference point for the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and national ethics committees. What I do will therefore primarily depend on the specific assignments the EGE receives.
What do you do now at Masaryk University?
In the area of ethics at the MU level, I am primarily responsible for the functioning of the Research Ethics Committee, which is tasked with assessing the ethical aspects of projects investigated at the university and, in particular, protecting the interests of research participants – we assess more than a hundred such projects each year, mostly for grant applications. At the Department of Medical Ethics, I have been working for three years now on the INSURE project, which aims to promote research ethics in the Czech academic environment. I also teach two new courses focused on bioethics that are offered as part of the common foundation subjects taught at MU. Additionally, at the Department of Experimental Biology, I am currently completing a research project investigating mechanisms of cancer therapy and I also teach several courses in cell biology and supervise two study programmes. Last year, I also had the opportunity to work on the new version of the Masaryk University Code of Ethics and I continue to collaborate with international colleagues in the area of research ethics and scientific integrity within the Alliance for Life Sciences.
How will your membership in EGE influence your teaching activities?
I do not doubt that it will be very important. After all, like any other crucial professional experience, it pushes you further. Membership in the EGE, and thus the opportunity to work with leading experts in their fields, will certainly allow me to see many things from a completely different perspective than before. However, it will not be a direct transfer of ideas. In my lectures on bioethics, I try not to push my own beliefs and opinions on the students, but rather to lead them towards asking certain questions themselves. And, if possible, to seek the answers on their own. If such development of opinions is honest and fair, it is the most important thing I can teach them.