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Biotechnology Industry Organization and the National Council of Churches
Promote "Active and Informed Public Debate" on Bioethics Issues

June 25, 2003, Washington, D.C. - Carl Feldbaum, President of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), and Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA (NCC), held a joint press conference today at "BIO 2003," the largest gathering of biotechnology interests in the world, to discuss the importance of open, frank and constructive engagement between the religious and biotechnology communities.

BIO and NCC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (full text follows) that commits both organizations to promote "an active and informed public debate about the ethics and moral implications of the use of various biotechnologies" and to "actively seek out collaborative efforts, programs and projects that promote a deeper public understanding of the ethical issues surrounding biotechnology."

BIO is the nation’s leading association of research, development and manufacturing organizations engaged in biotechnology. The NCC, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive ecumenical organization, comprises 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations with more than 50 million constituents in 140,000 congregations nationwide. Both organizations have actively sought to engage in dialogue on the ethical implications of biotechnology developments, discoveries and advances and their impact on the quality of life for human beings.

"I am pleased to report that our dialogue is well underway. These discussions have been frank, confidential, productive and respectful," said Feldbaum. "And we have learned from each other. Our partnership for dialogue is just one example of how serious we are in our commitment to finding common ground to better humankind," he added.

"Today's public commitment to ongoing communication between the nation's leading ecumenical organization and the leading biotechnology industry association signals the opening of a very, very important conversation," said Dr. Edgar. "Biotechnologies promise magnificent contributions to human well-being. At the same time, there is a need for vigilance about the ways in which those technologies are applied, so that human dignity and equality of opportunity are assured," added Edgar.

Both Feldbaum and Edgar anticipate a wide-ranging, ongoing dialogue between scientists and people of faith, including but not limited to members of the NCC's 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican member denominations.

In the Memorandum of Understanding, the two groups "recognize the timeliness of engagement between the religious community and bio-technology on matters requiring a national consensus such as equity of access to biotechnological applications that benefit society and a regulatory system in which biotechnology will operate." They affirm "a common belief in the importance and urgency of the appropriate and ethical use of the rapidly growing field of biotechnology," and state their "unequivocal opposition to human cloning."

The new dialogue facilitated by BIO and the NCC will complement an older NCC project, which is focused on human genetic technologies. In 1986, the NCC adopted a policy titled "Genetic Science for Human Benefit." It took a first look at some of the questions surrounding what was then a very new technology. Several NCC member denominations also have statements or policies on the issue.

Last year, the NCC’s annual General Assembly created a new Exploratory Commission on Human Genetic Technologies to review churches’ existing outreach, education and advocacy efforts related to biotechnology and public policy and to recommend next steps for the NCC. The exploratory commission will report its findings and recommendations to the NCC’s November 2003 General Assembly, in Jackson, Mississippi.

"Both of our organizations will actively seek out collaborative efforts, programs and projects that promote a deeper public understanding of the ethical issues surrounding biotechnology," concluded Feldbaum.

The full text of the NCC-BIO Memorandum of Understanding follows:

Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO)
and
The National Council of Churches USA (NCC)

Memorandum of Understanding

Background

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) is the nation’s leading association of research, development and manufacturing organizations engaged in the biotechnology industry. BIO has sought to engage the faith community in dialogue on the ethical implications of biotechnological developments. The National Council of Churches USA (NCC) is the largest and most comprehensive of the nation’s ecumenical organizations, comprising 36 communions, 140,000 congregations and 50,000,000 members. The NCC has recently completed a feasibility study and expects to continue to work with communions and the public to develop greater understanding of biotechnology and its promises and challenges for the human community.

General Intent

The intent of this partnership is to open channels of communication between the biotechnology industry, research leaders and church leaders concerning the field of biotechnology, an arena of human enterprise which holds immense consequence for human life. The NCC and BIO recognize the timeliness of engagement between the religious and scientific communities on matters requiring a national consensus such as the pursuit of scientific knowledge, equity of access to biotechnological applications that benefit American society and other nations and an appropriate regulatory system within which biotechnology will operate.

Assumptions

BIO and the NCC share:

A desire to promote - each in their respective communities - an active and informed public debate about the ethics and moral implications of the use of various biotechnologies;

A common belief in the importance and urgency of the appropriate and ethical use of the rapidly growing field of biotechnology;

A desire to support and disseminate the beneficial uses of biotechnology;

A recognition of the need for the continuation and potential modification of appropriate regulatory standards as biotechnologies emerge and develop; and

Unequivocal opposition to human reproductive cloning.

Practical Engagement

In order to advance these shared purposes we will:

Seek occasions for dialogue and enlist additional partners from our respective communities to participate in frank and constructive engagement;

Share information on scientific developments and ethical concerns about biotechnology; and

Serve as a mutual source of expertise and resource each other in technical fields of our specialized knowledge.

In addition to these specific proposals, the two parties will actively seek out collaborative efforts, programs and projects that promote a deeper public understanding of the ethical issues surrounding biotechnology.

Both organizations covenant to live by this MOU until either shall inform the other, in writing, of its intention to modify or terminate the agreement. This MOU establishes no legal liability relationship between the two organizations.

With high hopes for a blessed and productive future,

Signed:

Carl B. Feldbaum, President, Biotechnology Industry Organization
Bob Edgar, General Secretary, National Council of Churches USA
June 25, 2003

-end-


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