House debates

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006

Second Reading

5:58 pm

Photo of Kay HullKay Hull (Riverina, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

In 2002 I stood in this House and made a speech and, having made a difficult decision, I voted in favour of the research on surplus IVF embryos that were to be disposed of because they were no longer required and were destined to expire down a drain or through some other way of disposing of surplus IVF embryos. At the same time, I strongly opposed any attempt to introduce therapeutic cloning. At that time, the very best scientists and researchers met with us on a constant basis and every time I was guaranteed, as a member of this parliament, that therapeutic cloning would not be necessary and was not necessary if scientists could access surplus IVF embryos that would, as I said, unfortunately be disposed of.

During the briefing sessions for the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006 I have constantly asked the question: ‘What has changed since 2002 and what advancements have been made such that we would need to make the decision to build upon those advancements?’ There has been no response to my question other than the acting chair of the Lockhart committee advising me, within a forum, that IVF embryos are perfect, as only perfect embryos are kept for implantation, and that scientists need those stem cells that are imperfect in order to research genetic and other diseases.

From my investigations I believe that the reality of the situation is that there have been no real significant advances in embryonic stem cell research since 2002. The status, in my understanding, is that there have been nine licences issued, and I have the nine licences here. I have viewed and searched every single licence to understand them. They have authorised research on excess IVF embryos. One licence was to train in the techniques of embryo biopsy to enable embryologists to remove a cell or cells from an embryo and leave it in a suitable condition for subsequent implantation. It was subsequently ruled that this should not take place, as there seemed to be an ethical issue around that research and similar research in the United States. Four licences were to research techniques to improve IVF and four licences were to derive human embryonic stem cell lines.

In 2002 there was significant pressure applied by those affected by spinal injury, and I had a very strong feeling about this. These people applied pressure and urged us to support embryonic stem cell research; yet in 2006, from my knowledge and my research of these licences, there has not been a clinical trial involving embryonic stem cell research for spinal injury. So the availability of embryonic stem cells for research purposes has not at this time yielded any viable success to assist me within this debate.

On my reading of the Senate inquiry submissions and the Lockhart report, I determined that many submissions supported the removal of the prohibition on the basis of research by the Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk, who published results claiming that human embryos had been successfully cloned and that patient-specific stem cell lines had been derived from those cloned embryos. This claim has since been found to be a major scientific fraud, as he had not in fact had any such breakthrough.

I can understand people in my electorate and others who suffer from genetic or other illnesses or injuries desperately pinning their hopes on the outcome of this bill and the continuing research. Probably everyone in this House who has spoken has experienced a loved one’s illness that has had us wishing for a miracle cure. I wished for a miracle cure when my 28-year-old brother died from cancer. I wished for a miracle cure when, very soon after, my father died from cancer. I wished again for a miracle cure when, soon after that, my mother died from cancer. But it did not come. I understand the clear desire to have something available to keep life going.

I cannot help but wonder why proponents are not doing this research, as others have mentioned, on animals first, as is done in most other research. Why do we embark on this path of creation with human stem cells? Surely having it done on animals first would be a better way to demonstrate it. I recall in 2002 seeing a graphic descriptive video of a mouse that had been paralysed and stem cells seemed to have provided the mouse with movement. In fact, it influenced me greatly in making my decision in 2002, yet now I have many questions to ask on that video and the process.

In 2002 I was assured that it was almost a reality that if stem cells were made available then new tissue would be created to replace those organs that were damaged and that spinal injuries would be treated to enable a quadriplegic to regain movement, and perhaps enough movement to walk again. The use of excess embryos was enabled through legislation that I clearly voted for, yet there has been no success in four years that has seen the triggering of stem cells to grow organs with the use of perfect excess embryos; and yet we are now being asked to vote for a bill to create embryos for a number of reasons, including that we need imperfect embryos to research genetic deficiencies.

I have been quoted in my local paper as having said that I do not trust scientists. What I said was that scientists had relied on what they believed to be proven scientific research when making their submissions to the Lockhart review. This scientific research has since been found to be fraudulent, so how can these views be completely trusted when the evidence that they have substantially relied on was not correct? I have been very concerned to learn of teratomas, aggressive malignant tumours, forming during stem cell research that has been undertaken. I was alarmed to read in the Sydney Morning Herald that Professor Sherley was quoted as saying that by suggesting we can solve the tumour problem we are equally saying we may solve the cancer problem. Experience tells me that this is almost impossible.

I have thought long and hard about this debate. I ask what may seem like very silly questions, like: ‘When you develop a cell line that can grow new tissue in someone’s body, how do you program the cell to stop growing tissue?’ and the answer has been that we need more research to find out. But surely more of this work should be done on the surplus embryos available before asking the parliament to enable the creation of embryos for further research. I simply cannot get clear answers or comfort from the proponents to allay my concerns. And whilst I found the decision in 2002 difficult, I was very comfortable with my decision to vote for the bill at that time. This decision does not lead me to being at all comfortable. I am not comfortable with the majority of the aspects of this bill, and I therefore cannot give it my support.


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