Origins and History of the IMEW
The Kassel Conference in 1998
In March 1998 the four parent organisations responsible for people with mental disabilities in Germany along with the umbrella organisation of the independent living movement and the Federal Association for the People with Physical and Developmental Disabilities organised a congress called "Human Dignity is Inviolable: Against the Intervention of Bioethics in Life". It became clear during the preparations and staging of the event that the congress could highlight new developments but that a continuious debate would be necessary in the rapidly developing field of life sciences. In view of the numerous other responsibilities of these organisations and the specialist knowledge required to participate effectively in discussions of bioethics the groups felt that they did not have the resources necessary to deal with the many issues requiring their attention. Mindful of the problem they got together with recognised experts from the Kassel Conference and other disability and self-help groups and the idea of an ethics institute was born.
From the Idea to Action
In the following years the content, tasks, and working methods of the institute – named the Institut Mensch, Ethik, und Wissenschaft (IMEW – the Institute for People, Ethics, and Science) – were established in the memorandum and articles of association and in the founding declaration. After a careful balloting process both papers won the approval of all of the participants involved. This understanding between groups with widely differing perspectives and working methods was only possible because of the respect and tolerance shown to each other.
The joint initiative on the part of disability help groups, disabled people themselves, their families, as well as citizen initiatives and committed individuals, is unique in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. It demonstrates a considerable collective sense of unease and the critical importance of bioscientific developments and their social consequences for the lives of people with disabilities and their position in society.
In March 2002 the official opening of the IMEW was celebrated in Berlin.