This article examines the relevance of the Earth Charter to ethical debate on biotechnology. It uses the New Zealand Bioethics Council as a case study to demonstrate the positive contributions that the Charter could make to a nation's efforts to articulate ethical principles. It begins by examining the general tasks of the Council and demonstrates that the Charter is primarily useful as a fundamental source document and a critical tool for stimulating ethical dialogue. But its articulation of universal responsibility, together with its inspirational and educational nature, are also of significance. Moving from the general to the particular, the article applies one of the Charter's principles, "respect for all life", to the particular issue of transgenic animals. It is argued that this principle could help to fundamentally reframe debate on this issue.