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STATEMENT OF BIO-ETHICS CONSULTATION

Tonga National Council of Churchesí Center NUKUíALOFA, TONGA 12-14 MARCH 2001

PREAMBLE

As peoples of the Aqua continent of Pacifica. Equally created in the image of God and in fellowship with one another, we do thereby solemnly declare our faith and unity in the sovereignty of our Triune God, in whom we live, move, and have our being.

With God as the source of this life and that which is yet to come. Revealer of truth and sustainer of justice, faith and reasons; we make these pronouncements as guiding principles to all that we may do in the field of bio-ethics and intellectual property rights.

And as participants in this Consultation we pledge the following as our covenant by which we are bound.

We shall always endeavor to raise awareness and to take action regarding bioprospecting, bio-piracy, gene-mapping, human genetic engineering, patenting of plant, animal, microbial and human genetic resources and their possible impacts on Pacific Island Countries.

In the context of the proposed agreement between Autogen Ltd. (Australia) and the Government of Tonga regarding genetic research on the people of Tonga. We are concerned as Christians about the requirement of prior informed consent and the right of people to information regarding any negotiations in the field of genetic research in the Pacific.

With fellow sojourners and friends everywhere, we do hereby pledge to support and uphold the following principles and recommendations to the best of our abilities ≠ so help us God.

PRINCIPLES

We believe,

  • (a) in God as the supreme creator of all living things;
  • (b) all human beings are born equal in dignity and rights, and every human life has value
  • (c) Christian values should be placed first and all other values evaluated according to these Christian values;
  • (d) The peoples of the Pacific should be respected and valued for their identity as distinct peoples;
  • (e) All lifeforms should be treated in a way that respects their intrinsic value as living generational manifestations of creation;
  • (f) The quality of life is based on the development of human relationships, spiritual fulfillment, and reverence for life and the natural world.
  • (g) commitment to the quality of life of the future generations is fundamental to the world view of the peoples of the Pacific;
  • (h) the peoples of the Pacific are the guardians of their heritage and have the right to protect and control dissemination of the heritage;
  • (i) the peoples of the Pacific have the right to manage their own biological resources, to preserve their traditional knowledge and to protect these from expropriation and exploitation by scientific, corporate, or governmental interests;
  • (j) in the rights of the peoples of the Pacific to live and practice their customary practices relating to communal existences as well as their God-given ethics and cultural heritage based on common values such as reciprocity, respect and sanctity;
  • (k) no person should be subjected to medical or scientific experimentation without that personís freely given prior informed consent;
  • (l) that cloning of human beings is wrong;
  • (m) the conversion of lifeforms, their molecules or parts, into corporate property through patent monopolies is counter-productive to the interests of the Pacific;
  • (n) that scientific and commercial advances should not be allowed to proceed past the deliberations necessary to provide for their social, moral and ethical control;
  • (o) that national laws and provisions in international agreements which encourage and facilitate the patenting of lifeforms ≠ such as the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs ≠ should be repealed;
  • (p) that civil society is similarly concerned with these issues as reflected in: The Earth Charter, the Genetic Bill of Rights and the Treaty for a Lifeforms Patent-Free Pacific and Related Protocols (the Hagahai Treaty);
  • (q) all forms of genetic engineering of human genes should be rejected;
  • (r) and confirm our stand against the unauthorized collection and commercialisation of genetic resources from the Pacific.

RECOMMENDATIONS

We make the following recommendations to the Churches in the Pacific region, the National Councils of Churches, the Pacific Council of Churches, governments, and Councils of Chiefs, in the Pacific:

  • (a) that the Churches and Councils of Churches in the Pacific Region:
    • 1. be informed, and where necessary speak out against, the following: bio-piracy, bio-colonialism, international intellectual property rights regimes, and genetic engineering.
    • 2. educate and empower the Pacific people by providing relevant information on prior informed consent, bio-piracy, bio-colonialism, international intellectual property rights regimes, and genetic engineering.
    • 3. provide such information via as many media as are available.
    • 4. address issues of bio-ethics in order to provide to our church institutions a framework for ethical; and theological discussions concerning these issues.
    • 5. develop an Information Center to develop relevant, theologically-based information on informed consent, bio-piracy, bio-colonialism, international intellectual property rights regimes, and genetic engineering.
    • 6. continue to be at the forefront in promotion of human dignity, defending human rights, and protecting the environment which supports all of our lives. They must make sure that our human, animal, plant and micro-organism species, and their genetic and other biological inheritance be safeguarded from exploitation and manipulation. Decisions in the field of genetic engineering should be based on the Precautionary Principle, which was agreed on by government at he Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 and reconfirmed in the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety. The church must monitor developments in the field of biotechnology and act decisively if there is risk of serious harm.
    • 7. being an ecumenical effort in which all churches work together on all levels and within the National Council of Churches, Pacific Council of Churches, and World Council of Churches all continue to follow up on these issues.
    • 8. network with other agencies and organizations in order to increase their ability to understand and influence the complex ethical, economic, legal, and scientific processes involved. The Tongan Churches should accept the Tongan Minister of Healthís invitation to participate the newly-formed Research and Ethic Committee, and churches in other countries should seek to establish similar relationships.
    • 9. help and support the indigenous peoples and local communities of the region and the world to protect their biological resources, and to preserve their traditional knowledge and their right to live normally and free from genetically ≠ engineered environments.
    • 10. work to promote bio-diversity and sustainable practices within the Pacific region.
    • 11. support the Genetic Bill of Rights, the Earth Charter, and the Treaty for a Lifeforms Patent-free Pacific and Related Protocols, and work for realization of the principles expressed therein.
    • 12. That the churches will remind scientists, when necessary, that science is only a tool, and that human beings should not be used as tools of science. Scientific research is at the service of the human persons, and not the other way around. The Kingdom of God which is here and now must continue to challenge the different scientific undertakings to further the growth and development of human beings who fare on pilgrimage towards the fullness of the Kingdom of God.
  • (b) to governments and Councils of Chiefs:
    • 1. when any genetic research project is proposed, there should be full public discussion and absolutely all relevant information disclosed by all parties involved, including financial interests and assessments of environmental, health, and socio-economic risks.
    • 2. independent experts should be fully accessible to aid the public discourse, and to evaluate proposed research protocols in order to insure the full protection of the individual human and collective rights of the South Pacific peoples, and to ensure that all research is sound valid, and beneficial to the people and environment.
    • 3. Pacific regional legislation should be prepared, addressing issues of genetic engineering, bio-prospecting, and bio-piracy.
    • 4. the people should be consulted before any government signs any agreement impacting peopleís rights.
    • 5. That governments of the Pacific Region develop a common position and take a strong stand in international negotiations relevant to these issues, such as
  • › the review of the agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights.
  • › The negotiations on Access and Benefit-Sharing in the framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and
  • › The International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources in the framework of the United Nationsí Food and Agriculture Organization.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

The bio-ethics consultation wishes to acknowledge the initiative made by the Pacific Desk/Justice, Peace & Creation unit of the World Council of Churches in visioning and facilitating this very important consultation. Without their support, we would not have achieved such an exciting but challenging event.

We are grateful to the Minister of Education in Tonga, Hon. Dr. Tutoatasi Fakafanua for his inspiring insights and sharing during the official opening of the consultation. The guidance and expertise of our international speakers were of invaluable assets to our meeting especially Ms. Christine Von. Weizacker of Germany, Ms. Debra Harry from United States, and Mr. Clark Peteru from Samoa. Your untiring efforts we hope will be a milestone in our journey onwards with regards to bio-ethics in the region. Also our many thanks to our local resources, Dr. Taniela Palu, Sr. Dr. Keiti Ann Kanongataía, Rev. Dr. Mohenoa Puloka, and Mr. Lopeti Senituli. We want also to highlight the important role and participation of the regional and national ecumenical organizations as well as churches in the Pacific and local organizations participating in raising awareness and responding to the issues of bio-ethics from ethical, moral and theological perspectives.

Last but not the least we wish to extend our very sincere appreciation to the Tonga National Council of Churchesí secretariat and its Ecumenical Centerís staff and friends for helping out in the hosting and coordination of the consultation. Also the presence of the Pacific Conference of Churchesí Moderator, Mrs. Fuiva Kavaliku has been an encouraging gesture for the future follow up of the issue.

To God be all honor and Glory.

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