Bioethics Unit and Health Equity

Project title: Bioethics Unit and Health Equity



The Bioethics Unit of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS) is a support structure of the Presidency with the mission to: a) treat bioethical issues in research and institutional activities within the ISS and in relations with external institutions , in order to preserve the research integrity and to guarantee the ethics of research and experimental and public health interventions; b) provide support to the work of the ISS Ethics Committee; c) represent the ISS in National and International committees and institutional committees on bioethical issues; d) participate in National and International research projects in activities related to public health and biomedical research ethical issues; e) provide advice and opinions to the Presidency, the Directorate, the ISS National/Reference Centres and to external institutions.

The Bioethics Unit participated in the drafting of the ISS Code of Ethics that contains a chapter dedicated to public health interventions and the main criteria to be applied.



The Bioethics Unit addresses among its objectives ethical aspects in biomedical research and public health from an ethical point of view and promotes values ​​closely linked to health equity such as: protection of the person’s dignity and integrity; primacy of the person benefit over the interests of science and society; maximizing benefits and minimizing risks; autonomy, the right to know any information collected on one’s health; freedom of scientific research, under legal provisions that ensure the protection of the human being; confidentiality and personal data protection; protection of vulnerable people; rejection of all forms of discrimination; ban on marketing the human body and its parts; protection of the integrity of future generations; independent review; respect for justice in transnational research.



Public health interventions are based on the protection and promotion of the health, rights and needs of individuals.

The main criteria for the ethics of public health interventions are:

  1. Effectiveness: interventions must be methodologically valid and based on solid scientific evidence and relative results must be monitored over time.
  2. Proportionality: this criterion imposes that in a public health intervention the damages caused to the single individuals are justified and that the potential advantages for the community are superior to the damages. The pursuit of a collective benefit does not justify a utilitarian criterion and it is therefore necessary to choose the strategy that entails the least violation of individual rights compatible with the final objective set.
  3. Needs: interventions are acceptable if there are no alternative strategies that allow reaching the same goals for the community in a way that is less harmful to individual rights.
  4. Information: when possible, the communities receiving public health interventions must be adequately informed and involved in the decision-making processes.
  5. Consent: when possible and applicable, consent must be requested and exceptions must be justified.
  6. Protection of personal data and respect for confidentiality.
  7. Transparency.


Expected results

To deal with bioethics issues and look into them, where relevant, in the activities of “healthequity.iss” projects.


Project responsible person: Dr. Carlo Petrini, Director of the Bioethics Unit (

Department/Center: Bioethics Unit, Presidency of the ISS