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Nelson: community conference on biotechnology

Nelson people asked to take part in community conference on biotechnology

Nelson has been chosen as one of two places where the Bioethics Council will hold community conferences to explore people’s views on the use of human genes in other organisms.

The community conference will be held on Saturday 6 March 2004. Places are limited to ensure that all those attending can fully participate, so those wanting to attend need to pre-register by emailing humangenes@bioethics.org.nz or phoning (03) 963 2059.

The conference is one of 30 hui, community conferences and workshops being held by Toi te Taiao: the Bioethics Council to explore New Zealanders’ cultural, ethical and spiritual views on the use of human genes in other organisms.

Sir Paul Reeves, Chair of the Council says decisions about biotechnology are too important to be left solely to government, business or science.

The Council has chosen human genes in other organisms for its first dialogue because it is an area of biotechnology that is developing quickly both internationally and locally and which raised some basic questions common to many biotechnologies.

“ERMA, for instance, recently had an application for research involving the use of human genes in cattle. It is also a technology which is currently used to produce most of the insulin used by diabetics in New Zealand and around the world,” said Sir Paul.

The Bioethics Council was set up to help New Zealanders have the crucial debates we need to have about biotechnology and ethics, and have them in a way that enables us hear others’ viewpoints as we make up our own minds about very difficult questions, he said.

“Some of these questions go to the heart of what it is to be human and where we draw a line between what is possible, and what as a nation we believe is right.”

The national dialogue on human genes will run until the end of April and will feature an online forum and a submission process as well the face-to-face events. The hui and community conferences are open to the public, while the workshops are by invitation and are designed cover a wide range of views from groups such as scientists, community organisations, churches, Pacific peoples.

The main outcome of the dialogue will be advice to the Government on the cultural, ethical and spiritual issues surrounding the use of human genes in other organisms. The Council reports to the Government through the Minister for the Environment, but has a high degree of independence, including setting its own work programme and priorities.

“While the report to Government can be seen as the main outcome, it’s also important to note that the dialogue is an aim in itself,” said Sir Paul. “Our job is to provide the information and the forum for ordinary New Zealanders to engage in and discuss these issues and to make sure that government takes New Zealanders’ views into account when it makes decisions about how these technologies are regulated.

“We have no illusions about how difficult this is likely to be, but just because issues are complex and difficult to discuss doesn’t mean we should shy away from them.”

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