Concerns at 'Vampire' Project
Aboriginal people in Central Australia have learned of an international scientific proposal to take blood and hair samples from indigenous people in Australia.
The director of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, John Liddle, explained: "The Human Genome Diversity (or "Vampire") Project wants to visit 600 indigenous communities around the world and take blood and hair samples from the people. These samples would then be flown back to the United States and frozen in a 'genetic bank'. They would then be used by scientists to do research on the genetic make-up of indigenous people."
Liddle said that 12 Aboriginal communities have been identified in Australia. They are: Kalumburu, Mowanjum, Arnhemland, Lajamanu, Yuendumu, Warrabri, Doomadgee, Mornington Island, Groote Eylandt, Cape York, the Torres Strait Islands and Tasmania.
He continued, "Congress is very concerned about the Vampire Project. First, there has been no consultation, as far as we know, with our people or their organisations. Second, our people would have no control over how these samples are to be used and what research is to be performed on them.
"The most worrying aspect is the possibility of patenting of Aboriginal genetic samples and any drugs developed from them. This means that some company or government could legally own the genetic information present in our people's bodies. The US government has already put a patent claim on the blood of an indigenous woman of Latin America."
He concluded: "Our people do not want to stand in the way of research which will genuinely help people. At the same time, we are not going to allow our rights to be trampled on. Central Australian Aboriginal Congress believes that the Vampire Project should be stopped until proper consultation takes place with Aboriginal communities and organisations. Ownership of samples and patenting issue should be resolved before the project can go ahead."