Biology Reference
In-Depth Information
Summit', from 3 to 14 June 1992), the term 'genetic resources' was substituted for
the original expression 'biological resources' or 'genetic material'. The negotiators
were under significant pressure to finalize the draft in time for the summit, so all
definitions and concepts that were still controversial were either deleted or cut down
to the lowest common denominator (i.e., language that was acceptable to everyone
but generally legally ambiguous). For this reason, there was little discussion of the
definition of 'genetic resources'. The process of proposing and adopting a definition
was simply aimed at cutting down the language to the point that no party found it
objectionable. Because the negotiations were at a very late stage, it appears that no
scientists or experts in biotechnology were consulted and no detailed analysis of the
potential administrative and political interpretations of the term was undertaken.
The decision of the second meeting of the Conference of Parties of the CBD ( 1995a )
not to include human genetic resources in the definition of biological resources was
based on very limited discussion. One of the official COP2 meeting documents
(CBD 1995b ), which would have given rise to the explicit (negative) reference in the
COP2 decision, contains the following discussion, which may help contextualize the
evolution of this idea. (This quotation includes the related footnote.)
4. Human genetic resources
64. Medical researchers are increasingly interested in the diversity of the human gene pool
as a source of valuable scientific and medical information. The genetic material found in
human beings is 'genetic material' as defined under the Convention, in that it is material
of animal origin containing functional units of heredity. The collection and analysis of
samples of human genetic material from many different ethnic groups around the world
could provide insight into the evolution of the human species as well as the nature of
human susceptibility and resistance to diseases. 43 This value for humanity indicates that
these samples constitute genetic resources - genetic material 'of actual or potential value'
- again fitting a definition under the Convention. Yet from the history of its negotiation,
it is clear that the Convention was not formulated with human genetic resources in mind.
The collection and use of human genetic resources raises difficult ethical and politi-
cal issues. For example, the direct, physical interest of affected individuals in their own
genetic resources argues strongly for extensive consultations with affected citizens. Given
all the serious concerns surrounding this issue, the Conference of the Parties may wish to
study the question of human genetic resources and the Convention on Biological Diversity
to determine how it may be approached by the Conference of the Parties.
43 See Anna Maria Gillis, 'Getting a Picture of Human Diversity: Population geneticists
and anthropologists plan to use variation in human genes to get a sense of Homo sapiens
History,' BioScience 44:8 (994); Mary Claire-King, Celebrating Identity and Diversity:
The Human Genome Diversity Project (testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on
Governmental Affairs, April 26, 1993) (CBD 1995b ).
As is evident from the above, during its evolution the CBD went through a
complex and arduous negotiation process that oscillated between the need to
be all-inclusive of relevant concepts and, at the same time, specific about their
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