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April 3, 2001

Pacific Council of Churches Holds Consultation on Biotechnology Statement Issued by Representatives of Pacific Churches Tongan Government Officials Deny Agreement to Sell Human DNA

Nuku’alofa, Tonga: On March 12-14, 2001, a Regional Bioethics Consultation in the Pacific was sponsored by the Pacific Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. The Consultation was held at the Tonga Nation Council of Churches Ecumenical Centre in the capital city of Nuku’alofa. The Consultation was held to provide church leaders across the Pacific Region with information and an opportunity to discuss ethical and spiritual issues of human and non-human genetic engineering and genetic research.

A statement was issued by the attendees of the Consultation, discussing bioprospecting and genetic research in the region and the world. This marks one of the first such statements to be issued from the churches in the Pacific, which are a leading social force among the largely indigenous populations in the Region.

The Statement sets out principles to guide deliberations on bioethics, and recommendations to churches in the Pacific Region, councils of churches, and governments. The recommendations generally address the need for churches, governments, and other groups to work together to protect biodiversity and genetic resources, and call on churches to take an active role in protecting and educating people on issues of biotechnology.

Several experts on genetic research ethics provided support at the Consultation, including Debra Harry of the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism in Wadsworth, NV, and Christine Von Weitzacker of Germany, and Clark Peteru, attorney from Samoa. Presentations on ethical and theological reflections were provided by Sister Keiti Ann Kanongata’a and Reverend Dr. Mohenoa Puloka.

Tonga’s Minister of Education, Hon. Tutoatasi Fakafanua and a representive of the Tonga Ministry of Health, also spoke at the meeting. The Representative of the Minstry of Health informed the audience that the Government of Tonga had not entered into an agreement with Autogen of Australia to sell the rights to the DNA of the people of Tonga. This was an important revelation because news accounts in recent months and Autogen representatives have indicated that such an agreement had been made, despite a lack of consultation with the people of Tonga.

The project’s lead scientist from Autogen, Greg Collier, had been invited to present at the Consultation but cancelled plans to attend at the last minute.

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