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Top minds to meet at ethics conferences

Thursday 9 February 2005

Top minds to meet at ethics conferences

Leading thinkers in ethics and bioethics will converge on the University of Otago tomorrow for two related conferences tackling a range of thorny issues raised by rapid medical advances, particularly in the area of genetics.

First up is the New Zealand Bioethics Conference, entitled “Making People Better”, which will look at areas such as human enhancement, genetic testing and screening, and social and genetic factors involved in mental health.

“Our choice of title is a play on words that reflects the ability of genetics to both heal and, theoretically enhance,” Professor Donald Evans, Director of the Bioethics Centre at the University’s Dunedin School of Medicine says.

“That possibility raises a range of ethical questions around whether there are limits to the ways in which we should seek to restore people to health and, further, whether it is acceptable to go beyond restoring people to health. For example, should we develop technologies which could enable medicine to create people with extraordinary physical or intellectual characteristics?”

Keynote speakers include Professor Sheila McLean, Chair of Law and Ethics in Medicine at Glasgow University, a consultant to the World Health Organisation and the Council of Europe, and a Specialist Adviser to the House of Commons, who will speak on the issue of regulating pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).

Dr Kerry Breen, Chair of the NHMRC Australian Health Ethics Committee and Professor Terry Stacey, who until recently headed the Ethical Review body in the UK, will look at research ethics, governance and misconduct while Professor Carl Elliott, Professor of Paediatrics and Philosophy at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota will tackle the question: “What’s wrong with enhancement technologies?”

The programme includes a public lecture on “Hate in the Age of Terrorism”, delivered by former University of Otago Professor of Psychological Medicine Paul Mullen, who is now Professor of Forensic Science at Monash University and Clinical Director of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health.

The lecture, exploring the nature of hatred and hate crimes, will be held this Friday at 7.30pm in the St David St Lecture Theatre.

About 160 people are expected to attend from as far afield as India, the Pacific, Europe and North America.

A one-day United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Ethics of Knowledge Production Conference follows on Monday, attracting about 60 participants from the Asia-Pacific region.

“It will be an opportune time to discuss the new Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, and how it could best be implemented in the Southern Hemisphere,” Professor Evans says.

One of the key guests will be Justice Michael Kirby from the Australian High Court who chaired the drafting committee which Professor Evans also served on.

Both conferences will be held at Salmond Hall in Dunedin.


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