Sep 052014

Synthetic biology, one of many areas of new technological development, has rapidly expanded in the past decade, integrating engineering, genetics and computer science to produce new forms of life. It goes beyond the genetic modification of existing species to the manufacture of new ones. The possibilities are far reaching. Synthetic biology could be used to produce medications or replace human organs. Or it could be used to make biological weapons and products that destroy biological diversity.
In 2012, Canadian Yearly Meeting (CYM) judged that the new field of synthetic biology warrants the attention of Friends. CYM invited Monthly Meetings across Canada to address ethical and spiritual issues of synthetic biology during 2013. Information and support to do this was offered by the Canadian Friends Service Committee (CFSC). CYM would revisit the subject in 2014. Ten monthly meetings in Canada, with the information kit provided by CFSC, formed Study Groups on synthetic biology and applied Quaker testimonies. From the responses of these study groups, CFSC produced a summary and recommendations for Canadian Yearly Meeting 2014.
Canadian Yearly Meeting approved the following recommendations from the synthetic biology report:

  1. That CYM affirm the seven principles identified in Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology, a document that makes many important recommendations, and continue to work with the Biotechnology Reference Group of the Canadian Council of Churches (BRG) on discerning ways to implement the seven principles:
    1. Employ the Precautionary Principle;
    2. Require mandatory synthetic biology-specific regulations;
    3. Protect public health and worker safety;
    4. Protect the environment;
    5. Guarantee the right-to-know and democratic participation;
    6. Require corporate accountability and manufacturer liability; and
    7. Protect economic and environmental justice.

  3. That CYM request that Canadian Friends Service Committee (CFSC), with the help of concerned groups such as the ETC Group and the BRG, provide Canadian Quakers with an annual, easily understandable update on synthetic biology;

  5. That CYM request CFSC, and encourage Monthly Meetings, to find opportunities to link with other faith and community groups, and with Indigenous peoples, to share insights and discernment about synthetic biology; and

  7. That CYM encourage CFSC and Quaker Meetings in Canada to engage with other faith groups and interested parties, including organizations involved in research and/or manufacture in synthetic biology, to hold and/or participate in conferences that address ethical, spiritual, social, and economic aspects of synthetic biology.

    Synthetic biology research at NASA Ames - credit Alexander Van Dijk CC-BY

    Synthetic biology research at NASA Ames – credit Alexander Van Dijk CC-BY

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