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Conference Wrestles With Biotech Issues

12 February 2004

Otago Bioethics Conference Wrestles With Biotech Issues
-Stem cell research, genetic screening, GM to be debated-

Over 150 participants from New Zealand and overseas are set to explore the ethics of emerging biotechnologies at a major bioethics conference beginning at the University of Otago tomorrow. The event, which boasts a high-powered line up of national and international speakers, has also attracted the largest attendance in its history.

The ethics of researching new therapies based on adult and embryonic human stem cells, and issues surrounding genetic screening of newborns, foetuses, and pre-implantation embryos are among key topics to be discussed by the New Zealand Bioethics Conference’s 154 attendees.

Areas also covered include: animal ethics, spiritual values in bioethics, the commercialisation of cancer research, animal to human transplants, genetically modified organisms in horticulture, face transplants, and issues surrounding genetic research into inherited conditions in families.

Hosted by the Bioethics Centre at the Dunedin School of Medicine, the biennial event’s record size reflects the “pressing importance worldwide of the topics being discussed”, says Centre Director Professor Donald Evans.

“Advances in our understanding of how genes can be modified and significant breakthroughs in reproductive technology are now converging, and this means that societies and lawmakers are having to grapple with a broad spectrum of increasingly complex questions about how these advances should be used,” says Professor Evans.

The conference provides a “unique forum where researchers, ethicists, government officials and health practitioners can all come together to debate and discuss these thorny ethical issues”, he says.

As well as attracting strong interest throughout New Zealand, a number of speakers and participants are coming from the United States, Canada, Australia and Nepal.

Held at the Salmond Hall of Residence from 13-15 February, the conference, which is run in association with the Health Research Council of New Zealand, combines paper presentations, interactive workshops and plenary sessions. Leading US bioethicist Professor Linda Emanuel will also give a public lecture at Dunedin Hospital’s Colquhoun Lecture Theatre tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. titled: “Of Biotechnical Capacity & Global Epidemics: Can Socially Responsible Partnerships Exist?”

The line-up of ten keynote speakers includes two other North American experts and Sir Paul Reeves, Chair of Toi te Taiao: The Bioethics Council and Hon Pete Hodgson, Minister of Research, Science and Technology.

Other Keynote speakers and topics:

- Professor Hugh Blair of Massey University on “The Success of Animal Ethics Committees – What About Their Future?”

- Professor Michael Burgess of the Department of Medical Genetics, University of British Columbia on “Public Consultation in Ethics and Ethics in Public Consultation”

- Dr Richard Fisher, Director of Fertility Associates, on “Reproductive Technologies; Evolving Issues from New Approaches”

- Dr Parry Guilford, Pacific Edge Biotechnology Ltd on “Commercialisation of Cancer Research”

Professor Gareth Jones and Cindy Towns, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago, on “Stem cells: Science, Ethics and Public Policy”

- Associate Professor Lynn Peterson of Surgery and Medical Ethics, Harvard Medical School on “Culture, Ethics and Clinical Trials in the US”

- Professor Stephen Robertson, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago, on “Genetic Research and Families”


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