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Bioethics Council Concludes Human Gene Dialogue

Bioethics Council considers results of dialogue on Human Genes in Other Organisms

The Bioethics Council has just concluded a successful two day meeting at which it considered the results of its recently completed dialogue on Human Genes in Other Organisms.

"The formal dialogue process ended on 30 April and the Council received 130 written submissions," said acting Council chair Jill White.

"Those submissions have now been analysed, together with the contribution of those who attended the 25 face-to-face sessions we ran and the comments of those who took part in an on-line discussion.

"The Council is grateful to those who devoted so much time and effort to reflect on the issues raised by the use of human genes in other organisms and who engaged in dialogue with each other and with the Council.

"These are not easy questions - some of them go to the heart of what it means to be human - and we put in place a process that was designed to encourage people to engage, discuss and reflect upon the issues, rather than simply go with their initial reaction.

"The Council itself takes the same approach. New Zealanders have given us some very valuable feedback through the dialogue process and this will form a crucial part of what we consider as we begin to draft our report to Government. As we do so the Council will itself also be discussing and reflecting on the issues and coming to its own views on the cultural, ethical and spiritual questions arising from the use of human genes in other organisms."

Mrs White said the Council chose 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."

The Bioethics Council was set up to help New Zealanders have a series of dialogues about biotechnology and ethics, and have them in a way that enables us to hear others' viewpoints as we make up our own minds about very difficult questions, she said.

The Council thanked founding Chairman Sir Paul Reeves and retiring members Dr Gary Raumati Hook and Dr Cherryl Waerea-i-te-rangi Smith for their contribution to the Council over the past 18 months.

"The Council has a very heavy workload and all members understand how difficult it is to balance the demands of the Council with the many other obligations each member has," said Jill White.

"We are grateful to Sir Paul for his leadership during the critical establishment phase for the Council, to Cherryl for her leadership of the Maori working group and to Gary for the unique scientific perspective he brought to our work."

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