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Benson-Pope Speech: Xenotransplantation Report

David Benson-Pope Speech: Launch of the report on Xenotransplantation by Toi te Taiao: The Bioethics Council Environment House, 5.30pm

Good evening everyone. It’s a pleasure for me to join you all tonight to receive the Bioethics Council’s second major report, Xenotransplantation: Animal to Human transplantation.

I’d like to thank the members of the Council for their hard work. I congratulate you on producing a report that thoughtfully considers the views of New Zealanders on such a complex subject.

You faced a significant challenge to present the views of the public on new and emerging biotechnologies alongside the views of scientists.

I believe the report will be welcomed by policy makers, researchers and the public alike.

I would also like to acknowledge the leadership of the previous Minister for the Environment, Marian Hobbs, during the establishment of the Bioethics Council.

The leadership of the Chair of the Bioethics Council, Jill White, who unfortunately cannot be here tonight, has also been an important factor.

I know that her colleagues on the Council have very much valued Jill’s commitment and sense of purpose. And tonight brings an opportunity to welcome Charlotte Severne to the Council. Charlotte is a highly regarded scientist who brings to the Council a mixture of youth, innovative thinking and a sharp mind – welcome Charlotte.

Recent scientific advances are bringing the reality of xenotransplantation closer. For example, the work on avoiding the rejection stage of animal cell transplants is advancing rapidly with sophisticated anti-immune drugs being developed and the advance of genetic modification.

And so this science triggers serious questions.

It is therefore valuable and timely that the Bioethics Council have reported on many of these issues, and alerted us to some of the concerns New Zealanders have about this technology.

I thank all those who participated in the Xenotransplantation dialogue events throughout the discussion period. I know there were a great number of people involved in either writing a submission, contributing to the online discussion, or participating in the hui.

As mentioned, biotechnology is developing at a fast rate and we will need to consider where possible limits to developments should lie.

These developments raise questions that challenge New Zealanders' very sense of identity – our beliefs, values and norms. It is therefore crucial that biotechnology and science do not advance so quickly that societies feel that science is unmanageable or out of control.

It is in this context that dialogue between science and society is integral to ensuring biotechnology develops in a socially responsible and acceptable way.

It is important for science to recognise that cultural, ethical and spiritual beliefs are an important part of who we are as individuals, as well as communities, and as a nation.

I want to close by again acknowledging the Bioethics Council on their excellent work in seeking the views of New Zealanders on xenotransplantation and in publishing this report.

By continuing this dialogue we will find the balance between scientific progress and our desire for ethically, culturally and spiritually fulfilling lives.

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