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General Assembly 2006 of the National Council of Churches USA
Title: Biotechnology and National Security
Rationale: Powerful new biotechnologies have begun to unveil the intricate mechanisms of physical biology. Along with the promise of alleviating human suffering related to physical illness, this new knowledge also raises concerns about the potential for great harm. Recent advances in scientific research engendered further concern about the potential for malevolent uses for powerful biotechnologies, particularly research into the military uses. While the offensive uses of biotechnology are banned by international agreement to which the United States is signatory, concerns remain related to permitted defensive research. Significantly, the only terrorist attack in the U.S.A. since September 11, 2001 was a bio-terror incident that involved anthrax spores subsequently traced to U.S.A. military research laboratories. Potential misuses of these technologies provided the impetus for The National Academy of Sciences report “Biotechnology Research in an Age of Terrorism”, which recommends:
1) Creation of National Science Advisory Board for Bio-defense within the department of Health and Human Services.
2) Creation of an international forum on bio-security drawn from scientific and policy communities.
A) The science currently allows experimenters to manipulate common pathogens to make them more pernicious and devastating to human communities; and whereas,
B) Researchers are currently able to manipulate and strengthen common pathogens so that they are immune to current vaccines; and whereas,
C) Researchers are able to create entirely new classes of pathogens that could promote illness on a massive, even catastrophic scale; and, whereas,
D) There are numerous examples of biotechnological experiments involving the manipulation and modification of viruses that have surprised researchers with the virulence and lethality of the resulting new organisms; and whereas,
E) Research into bio-warfare, and defense against bioengineered weapons diverts scarce funding from beneficial applications; and whereas,
F) Research into bio-warfare and defense against bioengineered weapons diverts talented scientists and highly capable laboratories from beneficial research; and whereas,
G) At the present time, there is very limited public awareness and review of bio-defense projects, creating a maze of classified projects under the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security with little transparency, scientific oversight, nor comprehensive scientific value assessment; and whereas,
H) The number of laboratories with the equipment and expertise to conduct bio-warfare experiments grows every day. The vast majority of these facilities, in the USA and around the world are unregulated and unsupervised by any authority.
Therefore be it resolved that the National Council of Churches USA calls on governmental bodies in the United States to enact legislation that would create a National Science Advisory Board for Bio-defense within the Department of Health and Human Services with powers of regulation and oversight over the bio-defense activities within government and in the private sector. Also, we call on governments, research institutions and scientific agencies to convene an International Forum on Biosecurity, and begin work toward diminishing the threat of these emergent uses of biotechnology for human harm. Further, we urge all people of good will to become, and continue to be vigilant of these issues, as an exercise of civil responsibility.
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