Wednesday, 6 December 2006
Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006
Consideration in Detail
I rise to speak against the amendments moved by the member for Bass. In my contribution I want to explain to members of the House the amendments and details of the use of foetal tissue in Australian research currently. I also want to advance some arguments as to why people should vote against the amendments. In starting my contribution, I acknowledge that people of the greatest goodwill can differ on these sorts of issues that are before the House. As the Leader of the Opposition said in his contribution, there is no monopoly on morality here. I believe that people are trying seriously to deal with these issues and I make my contribution in that vein.
If the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006 is amended and returned to the Senate, we face the reality that it may not pass the Senate again. People who support the bill ought to weigh that fact when they weigh their attitude to these amendments. Of course, I cannot know what the Senate would do with an amended bill returned to it. But, on the best advice available to me from senators who supported the bill in the form in which it has been brought to this House, I am informed that an amended bill may not survive in the Senate. I think supporters of the bill need to consider that matter of fact.
The amendments moved by the member for Bass deal with foetal tissue. Of course, this is not a nice subject for discussion; I acknowledge that. But I think we also have to acknowledge that, under very carefully regulated conditions, foetal tissue has been allowed to be used for research purposes in Australia since 1980—that is, for some 26 years scientists have had access to foetal tissue.
The current regulations involve approval from an institutional human research ethics committee; compliance with state or territory legislation; the NHMRC’s national statement on ethical conduct in research involving humans; and supplementary note No. 5, the human foetus and the use of foetal tissue. Importantly—this has been very important in my thinking—there must be consent from the parents of the foetus. The guidelines stipulate that the human foetal tissue must be from medical terminations of pregnancy of less than 20 weeks gestation and where the weight of the foetus is less than 400 grams.
What does this legislation provide? This legislation provides that precursor cells obtained from foetal tissue may be used for the purposes of somatic cell nuclear transfer. That is, a precursor cell obtained from foetal tissue may be combined with an egg from which the nucleus has been removed to create an embryo, as that definition appears in this legislation, which could be the subject of research and which must be discarded at the end of 14 days development.
Why would you want to use such material for the purposes of research? I think all of us are aware that there can be gross abnormalities in foetuses. People who want to have babies may be advised, when pregnant, that their baby, if born, will have a gross abnormality. People faced with that hugely difficult decision will make all sorts of ethical choices—and I do not seek to reflect on any choice that a person might make in those most tragic of circumstances—and some will choose to terminate the pregnancy. If they then consent to the use of the foetal tissue, the foetal tissue with the abnormality in the genetic code can be used through embryonic stem cell research to create stem cells that might help us to understand why that gross abnormality has arisen. This is true of syndromes like Tay-Sachs. The truth is that babies born with that condition will die in horrible pain; so researchers seek access to this kind of research to stop that happening.
It is a difficult choice, I agree; but I think it is a choice that this House should make. I think we should note that foetal tissue is available for research now. I think we should vote against the amendments. I understand that there will be differences of opinion amongst members of this House, but that is my recommendation. I will be voting against the amendments and for the bill in its current form to become Australian law.