International Biotechnology Convention Brings Church and Biotechnology Leaders Together to Seek 'Frank and Constructive Engagement' Between Science and Religion

WASHINGTON, June 25 /PRNewswire/ -- 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 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 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 140,000 congregations with more than 50 million constituents 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. Bob 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.