House debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021


Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform (Maeve's Law) Bill 2021; Second Reading

6:10 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to speak on something which I know is heartfelt and I know comes with many contentions. And I know that, most likely, I am on the losing side of the debate, but nonetheless the purpose of this chamber is for an examination and to announce a position and to give some cogent reason as to why you hold it.

Mitochondrial disease and the effects of it—no-one is suggesting for one second what dire circumstances they are, and no-one is suggesting for one second that, obviously, a life better lived, with a better quality of life, is something we search for. But things must be seen through the prism of consequences and balance, and, for my part, I won't be supporting the Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform (Maeve's Law) Bill 2021. I say that at the start, and I do it for a number of reasons. One is that mitochondrial donation has been legal in the United Kingdom for nearly five years, but there have been no reported live births in the UK, so it's not clear if this procedure is safe and practical. Also, with the changing of the human genome, it has consequences that we really don't understand, and we don't understand it to the extent that the legislation emphasises this danger by giving immunity from civil liability for the adverse effects, and this removal of liability from both the minister and senior public servants states, in its very nature, that there is an uncertainty about exactly where this leads. If, as I and others have said, it is too dangerous for the decision-makers then it's probably something that requires absolute caution as to whether you proceed down that path. I suppose one of the core issues, of course, is that mitochondrial donation involves the creation and then the destruction of human embryos. And that's a philosophical divide—I respect other people's opinions, but it's something that is quite strongly held.

So, to give reason to that, my explanation is: where, in a person's life, does another person have a greater right over it than themselves? And I cannot resolve myself to what that point is. If people pose the question, 'Is it the day before you were born?' then I think the vast majority of people say: 'No, that is not right. You can't terminate a life the day before it is born.' So we go on a journey and say, 'Maybe it's two days before,' and people say likewise. You say, 'Well, a week before.' Or is it at a point where it would be viable? Children, of course, can be born as early as 22 weeks and survive. How do you define the legal rights of one against the legal rights of the other? How do you get to a point where you say that, by reason of where the person is in their life, they have no rights, and then, at a certain point, a certain juncture, they do? I find trying to rationalise that point so often philosophically implausible, for my own part. I know other people have different views. Then there is the point of: Where do you go back to? How do you find that spot? What is the issue? Of course, people have varying views as to where the rights of the individual start and where they don't. If it's your capacity to look after yourself, then no child after they're born can look after themselves. No-one argues that they don't have rights. In fact, they probably aren't able to look after themselves until possibly as an early teenager, but there's not a parabola of rights where at certain ages through your life you have absolute rights and then they dwindle towards the end and they dwindle towards the start.

I have a view that it is a lineal position of rights and it's constant all the way through, and your capacity to comprehend your rights is merely that. If a person is asleep, they have no comprehension of their rights, but their rights nonetheless exist. If a person is knocked unconscious in an accident, they don't by doing so lose their rights. Have their rights in any way diminished? In fact, exceptional actions are taken to conserve the life and conserve their rights. So our actions in other parts of our life show, or other actions of any government show, that there is an absolute desire for the maintenance of life and the maintenance of the rights that exist for that life.

In the idea of liberty, of things that are attached to it, of liberalism, is a sense of attachment of a person's rights and protection of a person's rights and that a person has got to be allowed the capacity at some point to be master of their own ship, if so doing, and that what we should be doing is making sure that there are no impediments placed in the way of that person living the life that they wish to live. But, if a person's life is taken away from them, then of course they don't have any life at all.

How do we find the point where we believe that someone's rights come into existence? I can't find that. So you go back and back and back. I arrive at the point that when there is conception, when there is the capacity for the human egg—go right back: add ovum to the egg—that after that point, once there is fertilisation, there is a process in train where what you are talking about is the development of the human person, but I believe that at that point is the establishment of rights and they must be respected.

My main issue with this is the creation of that life for the known outcome, the deliberate outcome of knowing that there will be the destruction of that life. It wasn't an accident. It wasn't something that was not incurred; you actually create a life to destroy it, and I have a philosophical problem with that that goes beyond just a philosophical position, that actually divines how I am with this free vote—so we're talking about our positions—how I can't discern a latter stage where a person establishes a greater right, and neither has anybody ever been able to say to me they could clearly display or explain a latter stage where a person becomes a part of those rights.

In the complexion of this, of course, as always, is the issue of trying to deal with mitochondrial disease, with the mitochondrial defects, and, if that is not the solution, what is? We have an incredible capacity to develop the techniques into the future that are able to deal with this. We've had issues in the past, such as stem cell technology where it was implied that the only way was with embryonic stem cells, and it became apparent later that a vastly more apt process is stem cells that can be found in a person's own body, and this vastly reduces the capacity of rejection.

With our intrusion into the process of the human genome, we must acknowledge that down the track there will be genetic inheritance of the changes that we have made. They may be of no consequence. They may be completely free of any detriment to generations that come after us. But we just don't know. We haven't been able to work that issue out. We haven't gone far enough into this. We are talking not only about the rights of the embryo that was destroyed but also about the rights of people down the track, in future generations, as to what will affect them.

I think there's also another issue that is incredibly pertinent now, and we see that. A person has a right to understand what their genetics are and who their biological parents are. You can see it creates incredible hurt and frustration when people can't understand who they are. Everybody has an absolute desire to say, 'I know who supports me, who I was brought up with and who I call my mother and father,' whether they're biologically their mother or father or not, and they absolutely respect that. But the torment for many people is that they say, 'I don't know who my father is,' or, 'I don't know who my biological mother is; I don't know who that person is.' They live a life of searching for exactly what is the substance that makes them up and the essence of who they are.

We can see that portrayed in so many things, where so many people go to certain sites to find out what their heritage is, to search through it, to see what makes them up and to see what their genetics actually go back to, what is the source and what is the point. With this, we are creating a genomic line that will make that impossible. There will be a point where even genetic testing will be inconclusive, because you've got a combination of genetic material that comes from three people, not from two. So, for subsequent generations of these people, what makes them will be of a vastly different complexion and a vastly greater complexity than for people who are making the decision today.

So more needs to be done. I've tried to make sure that I didn't hide my philosophical view. It's clearly stated. I think that, on a lot of the issues which people worry about in this place, they say, 'I know you've got a view; you just don't say it.' Well, for the purpose of this, I have clearly stated my view. I note that there's been an agreement by the minister that sex selection is something that will not be supported, and I think that is a good thing, because inherently, once we do that, we start saying that one human being is of more value than another human being by reason of their gender. That, I think, is abhorrent to both sides of the chamber and is not accepted. That, in essence, also creates questions. People are thinking about this. It is not as simple and straightforward as it might first appear.

I thank the House for the opportunity to lay down a brief iteration of some of the concerns that I have and some form of reasoning as to why I hold them. For those reasons, I shan't be supporting this.


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