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Mahuta: Launch Who gets Born? report

18 June, 2008
Launch Who gets Born? report

Speech notes for Hon Nanaia Mahuta for the Launch of Toi Te Taiao: the Bioethics Council's report on pre-birth testing, Ministry for the Environment, 18 June 2008, Wellington, 6.30pm.

E ngaa mana, e ngaa reo, e ngaa kaarangatangamaha, teena koutou katoa


The opportunity to join you here this evening to launch the Toi Te Taiao report on pre-birth testing is yet another important milestone. Alongside the earlier report on xenotransplantation, this report helps to inform us about ethical matters in relation to pre-birth testing as well as factors associated with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).

I want to acknowledge my colleague, the Hon Steve Chadwick, parliamentary colleagues Tony Ryall, Paul Hutchinson, Judy Turner and Tariana Turia, Acting Secretary for the Environment, Howard Fancy, and participants and guests, teena koutou katoa.

I particularly want to acknowledge Toi TeTaiao, Chairman Martin Wilkinson, Rosemary du Plessis who chaired the Pre-Birth testing working group, whaea Waiora and council members.

Thank you for the hard work you have put into this report..

Toi te Taiao: the Bioethics Council

As many of you are aware, Toi te Taiao: the Bioethics Council was established after the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification found there was “a compelling need for a body to address the big picture issues where new forms of technology pose societal questions that go beyond individual choice.”

The report also said how “vital” it was that “developments in biotechnology … be based on the values we hold in common.”

Indeed the title of this latest report on pre-birth testing, Who Gets Born? is intended to situate our thinking right to the heart of the matter.

Pre-Birth Testing?

I am informed that the approach taken to compile the recommendations builds on a former method combining a process of consulting people and engaging their views in a form of dialogue. The Council recognised that the challenge was moving from this starting point towards deliberation and informative thinking based on choices and considerations. The subject of pre-birth testing on many levels confronts both the individual, society, one’s cultural, spiritual and moral viewpoints.

The Council has shown in its report that by using this deliberative dialogue method, participants have framed the four approaches for pondering pre-birth testing. First, focusing on personal responsibility and the freedom to make personal choices, second, the view that every embryo or foetus has a right to life, third, that tangata whenua should be involved in developing policy and information resources, and fourth, that there should be better and more accessible information about pre-birth testing.

Having healthy children is every parent’s dream, there is nothing more important. While many pre-birth tests may be routine, the fact is they happen at a deeply emotional and potentially vulnerable time.

The report comments briefly on the existing risks associated with PGD and the overarching ambition to assure parents that they have healthy children.

Again the report notes that there is a general acceptance to screening embryos for genetic pre-disposition to disease, while the embryo is outside the womb. The process is intrusive and there is a cost associated with such a test.

Participants had plenty of time to discuss, reflect and think about these issues perhaps even adjusting their views, gain a better understanding and appreciation of other views to build a common consensus of how we might approach the topic of pre-birth testing.

To some degree this method builds on how Maaori and Pasifika people approach complex issues, by way of a waananga type format.

Making Decisions

It is often difficult for people to move beyond their personal views and beliefs. As a result, dialogue may end up polarised and adversarial. Many New Zealanders gave up their time to engage with others on the issue of pre-birth testing. Id’ like to publically acknowledge those of you in this room and beyond who took part.

This report does not intend to offer a peripheral commentary on the subject of abortion and the Council was very clear about its purpose.

Because of new technology there are more and more decisions to consider when looking at the health of an embryo and these are touching on important ethical matters.

The report shows that there are ways to work through these sorts of issues constructively, ways which offer policy and decision makers a much richer understanding of where people are on these difficult issues, and of what people would be prepared to do, or not.

This allows the public to make a genuine contribution to more robust and sustainable decision making. I certainly applaud the work of the Council and intend to initiate a process whereby report findings can contribute to policy work in this area, and better inform the Government’s decision making process. To that end, I look forward to the ad-hoc ministerial group meeting to consider the report findings and the framing of a Government response.

It is a pleasure to receive this report on behalf of the government. I look forward to working with the Council to distribute the report and advance public consideration of pre-birth testing, amongst my colleagues in the near future.

Heoi ano ra ka haere tonu aku mihi ki a koutou kua haere mai nei i tēnei pō hei whakanui i ta tātou nei ripoata.

I formally launch Toi te Taiao: the Bioethics Council – Who Gets Born? Report

Tēna koutou, tēna koutou tēna tātou katoa.


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