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Otago To Host Unesco Ethics Conference

29 September 2005

Otago To Host Unesco Ethics Conference

The University of Otago has been chosen to host an important United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Ethics of Knowledge Production Conference in February.

“We are honoured to have been chosen as the venue for this,” Professor Donald Evans, Director of the Bioethics Centre at the Dunedin School of Medicine says. “It is one of several such conferences UNESCO is holding around the world.”

The conference is particularly timely because it will be able to examine the new Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, which is due to be considered for adoption by the UN in October. Professor Evans was a member of the specially appointed group that drafted the document.

“Having the conference in February will allow us to discuss its nature and look at ways of implementing it in the Southern Hemisphere,” he says.

Participants, who are expected to come from Pacific and Asian nations, will also discuss the UNESCO international programme on research ethics and examine the issue of ethics education in the social and human sciences.

One of the key guests will be Justice Michael Kirby from the Australian High Court who chaired the drafting committee Professor Evans served on.

The one-day UNESCO conference on 13 February 2006 will follow-on from the New Zealand Bioethics Conference from 10-12 February.

Entitled Making People Better the conference will cover a range of areas from social and genetic determinants of mental health to genetic testing and screening, human enhancement, and research involving indigenous people.

“The title is a play on words,” Professor Evans explains. “Genetics offers the opportunity to heal but there is also, theoretically anyway, the opportunity to enhance and make people better than they would otherwise be. We will be discussing that whole issue of whether it is acceptable to go beyond restoring people to health.” Professor Evans says the conference topic reflects the University of Otago’s leadership in two major research projects.

The Human Genome Research Project - involving the University of Otago’s Law Faculty and the Bioethics Centre, with funding from the New Zealand Law Foundation - is examining whether and to what extent, human genome-based technologies should be regulated in New Zealand.

There is also a FoRST programme, now in its fourth year of six, investigating with Maori perspectives of emerging genetic biotechnologies.

A number of distinguished international speakers are expected for the conference, with an international workshop on genetics and behaviour to be held beforehand, and the UNESCO conference afterwards.

Both conferences will be held at Salmond Hall in Dunedin.


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