Tuesday, 30 November 2021
Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform (Maeve's Law) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform (Maeve's Law) Bill 2021. This bill will allow women whose children would otherwise be susceptible to life-threatening mitochondrial disease to avoid their children inheriting it. This is a disease that significantly reduces life expectancy and quality of life, and it's very difficult to diagnose. There are currently no known cures for mitochondrial disease, with treatment options generally aimed at managing symptoms. The risk of developing serious illness is around one in 5,000 to one in 10,000, but approximately one in 200 Australians may be predisposed to mitochondrial disease.
Mitochondrial donation is an assisted reproductive technology that, when combined with in-vitro fertilisation, or IVF, as it is so well known, has the potential to allow women whose mitochondria would predispose their potential children to this disease to have a healthy biological child. The process creates an embryo which includes nuclear DNA from the man and the woman seeking to have the child as well as mitochondrial DNA from a donor egg, minimising the risk of transmission.
This bill establishes a national regulatory framework which allows different types of mitochondrial donation techniques for clinical use under a clinical trial licence for human reproduction. One of these is maternal spindle transfer. This involves removing the maternal spindle of both the prospective mother's egg and the mitochondrial donor's egg prior to fertilisation. The maternal spindle which has been removed from the mother's egg is then placed into the mitochondrial donor egg, which is then fertilised to form a zygote and then an embryo. The egg cell of the prospective mother, which no longer contains any nuclear DNA, is discarded.
Another technique outlined in this bill is pronuclear transfer. While I acknowledge that the science involved is very complex, I do have some personal concerns with this method, arising from my own personal faith. Pronuclear transfer requires fertilisation of both the prospective mother's egg and the mitochondrial donor's egg, using the father's sperm to produce two zygotes. It's at this stage that the pronuclear transfer occurs. The two pronuclei are removed from the zygote produced from the egg cell of the prospective mother and placed into the zygote which is produced from the egg cell of the mitochondrial donor. Following this, the zygote which is produced from the egg cell of the prospective mother, and which no longer contains any nuclear DNA, is discarded.
My concerns with this technique relate specifically to the creation of a zygote with the specific intention that it will later be destroyed. Whilst I acknowledge that there are a range of views in this place, and indeed around the nation, as to when human life begins, I personally cannot support this method. While I acknowledge that there are different definitions of when human life begins—whether that be a medical definition, a religious definition of many different kinds, a legal definition or otherwise—for me and for others who hold religious beliefs, this view of when life begins is deeply rooted in our faith. I acknowledge that, although I hold a Christian faith, this is something that is very personal in terms of when one might believe that life begins.
It's something that I had to wrestle with when, some 13 years ago, I underwent IVF myself in order to have our first born son, Oscar, whom I absolutely adore and think the world of. But I remember the wrestle that I had to go through in this process, trying to hold both my faith and the very deep desire to have a healthy child, having experienced some very great challenges and complications prior to this. The only way that I could safely have my baby was to go through the IVF process, so that meant I had to weigh this whole decision up and think through carefully what this meant for me, given my own personal religious beliefs. Being able to arrive at a realisation that I personally could choose to perhaps restrict how my IVF procedure would go, such that I would just look at fertilising the number of eggs that we intended to use, was a very difficult decision, but it was one that I had to weigh up carefully and where I realised the deeply personal aspect of legislation and techniques like this. This is an area where there is no easy decision. You weigh up the consequences heavily and deeply, and they are very personal. Many—not all, of course—have a deeply held religious belief that life begins at conception. For me, it's because I believe that as humans we are made in the image of God and that is why human life is so sacred. As such, I foreshadow that I will support any appropriately worded amendments that may be moved in this House that would seek to remove the technique of pronuclear transfer from this bill.
I also raise some concerns regarding certain provisions in the bill that allow parents to request that only male embryos be implanted and that any female embryos be discarded for medical reasons. Under current Australian law, sex selection of embryos under assisted reproductive technologies is already permitted in cases of a serious genetic condition, and it is unclear why a licence holder could not simply rely on this existing provision and why this bill explicitly states that selection of male embryos over females is permitted. Should there be appropriately worded amendments made in this House that remove this sex selection provision from this bill, I would also support this in the House. This medical advancement allows that descendants of those born from mitochondrial donation will have two sets of genetic material. It's one of those issues which, again, I've had to weigh up very carefully. I acknowledge that I'm not a scientist. I acknowledge that these are matters that go way beyond what perhaps we as legislators—