Wednesday, 6 December 2006
Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006
The Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006 is a difficult piece of legislation for many people—and understandably so. It has come to this place as a matter of conscience. We do not have many matters of conscience, as members would be aware, and that in itself provides a whole new dilemma for many of us. When it is normally a matter of government business, legislation is often considered through your internal party processes. You go to the question of your party’s policy. You review how it fits with respect to your own views and those of your party. You come to a conclusion as part of a group and go forth on that basis.
On an occasion such as this, the requirement is for you to take advice, not only from your community but also from experts, and to consider the matter. But at the end of the day you stand alone to make the decision as you see fit. There have been very few matters of conscience in the time that I have been here—some 13 years—but this is one; the earlier bill in 2002 which related to these issues was another; and, as I recall, there have only been two or three others. As such, as I said, this bill produces some special questions for members to consider.
It is also difficult because it is one of those occasions when often people in your community feel very strongly that there is a need to relay their particular concerns on the issue, often in emotive terms and, I have to say, always in heartfelt terms. I have had correspondence from my own area and from elsewhere in support of this legislation; I have also had correspondence very much against it. I do not question the beliefs of those on either side of that debate. I do sometimes question the language that they use, but I have no doubt that people believe what they say when they raise the matter of what should be done regarding this particular piece of legislation and that those views are solemnly held.
In trying to come to a decision about this particular bill, I tried to spend a little time looking at the debate. I was in fact on the earlier Andrews committee, as it has become known, for the last nine or 10 months of that committee’s consideration of the issue, and I came to a number of conclusions at that time. I do not think it would be a surprise to anyone that my views are still basically consistent with the view that I took at that time, though, of course, in some respects the debate has moved on. I also took the time to go back to what I said in the debate on that previous occasion. A number of things that I said then still hold true now, or at least hold true in terms of my own views on this difficult and vexed issue. Back in 2002, I said:
What can we say about this debate? We can say a few things, and one is that, as someone who has spent a fair bit of time looking at this, I am not sure what will end up being the case in regard to scientific research in this area, both in terms of adult stem cells and in terms of embryonic stem cells. With my knowledge, which is limited and that of a layman, with respect to research in these areas, the one thing that is clear is that the jury is still out. There is evidence with respect to adult stem cells that suggests we will see some major achievements on behalf of humankind in the years to come. There is evidence to suggest that the same thing may well happen with embryonic stem cells. I do not know about this because I am not a scientist, I am not an expert in this field, and one is getting, on a regular and continuing basis, evidence that suggests things both ways. We are certainly seeing a situation where proponents of both sides of the cause are endeavouring to deflate or inflate particular claims to assist their own particular views with respect to this issue.
When this matter was being considered by the committee the circumstances were that overwhelmingly, but not entirely, medical experts who were involved in adult stem cells and in embryonic stem cells agreed on one thing: that research into both should continue and that, as is the case with medical research and as is the case with, for example, drug development in a range of areas, often where you go and how you get there is not quite that simple and developments in one can and will often assist developments in the other. The intention overall is to move forward in a way that ensures that society has better techniques to deal with the range of debilitating conditions that face people as they grow older or that they may have faced from an early age. So I do not think there is a convincing view one way or the other on the question of which research is best; I think both research areas are essential and ought to be progressed on that basis. It comes down to your ethical view and what you see as being the question here. I think that is the key.
There has been quite a bit of comment on the situation we face now in considering the Lockhart review. There has also been quite a bit of comment about the fact that the House had a view several years ago on stem cell research—the House voted unanimously on the previous occasion to block certain aspects of that particular type of research—and that we are now in fact altering that. Again I quote from my speech in 2002 on the system that we were constructing at that stage:
Will that system be perfect? No, I do not believe it will be perfect. Is it important to have a system? Yes, it is. Are we in a situation where we ought to be able to deal with the serious issues around this question? I believe we can, but I do not believe that, if the legislation passes this parliament and is then implemented, that will be the end of the story; not at all. For example, at the moment we are particularly dealing with the question of what we do with research into excess IVF embryos. I will be quite frank about this. As a member of the majority viewpoint on the Legislation and Constitutional Affairs Committee, I support the use of excess IVF embryos in the circumstances outlined. Depending on developments in the future, if evidence is produced to show that this research will be successful in dealing with the range of conditions that have been mentioned—and that is a big if—then I would be prepared to consider other aspects of therapeutic cloning that have been talked about in relation to treatments in this area, but not now.
That was the point of the committee; that was the point of the legislation having a sunset clause with respect to considering this issue again in terms of where we go. I do not believe the circumstances are there now to say that is necessarily the way forward and I want to be able to look at that again in future if required. I hope it is required or that adult stem cells have advanced to a stage where that research takes care of those issues and we do not have to deal with these ethical questions. But, if we have not got to that stage, my view is that we ought to consider those questions down the track. That is how you avoid the slippery slope in these circumstances: you put in place safeguards that allow you to revisit the issues and consider them in the circumstances.
I mentioned that I saw it very much as an ethical question. Again, I quote from that speech in 2002:
When we look at where we go from here, it gets down to that ethical question of the status of an embryo. What are we talking about here? Is this a human life or isn’t it? What happens to that human life? I am sorry, the arguments have been stated right across. I personally do not believe that an embryo at the age that we are talking about constitutes a human life or the potential development of a human life because it is not actually implanted. It is not in a situation where development is going to occur, and we know it is not going to occur ...
That was definitely my stated view at that time and I have not changed that view.
Where do we go from here? We are considering this legislation because the legislation we passed several years ago set up a review process. We are now here because of the review process and that is in line with what was agreed at the time. Those who would suggest that, by reviewing these things at the moment, we are effectively going back on what the parliament decided at that time are not actually correct. The parliament made a decision at that time to review these issues, particularly with regard to the question of somatic cell nuclear transfer—therapeutic cloning—in Australia. There was a moratorium. The fact of the matter is that there is no doubt that the matter was supposed to come back here for consideration depending on what was seen as the situation in the community. That is certainly what the Lockhart review sought to address. There have been many significant reports that have been surprisingly uniform in their recommendations of developments in this area. It should be noted that Australian scientists and scientific bodies have not differed from overall public opinion but have themselves pushed for strong nationally applied regulation of cloning and stem cells.
There have been a number of emotive points made on the ‘slippery slope’ argument. I stress that some of the emotive points that have been made by those who are, if you like, boosters for this form of research have also been quite unreasonable. My earlier speech had quite a few things to say about the way Professor Alan Trounson handled the debate from the pro research line. I think it was at times mischievous almost and certainly not helpful to the overall cause of having a proper, deliberative discussion on where we go. The fact is that when we are talking about cloning, as in the cloning of human beings, everyone is opposed.
It has also been argued that there will be a demand to push the time out beyond the 14-day limit, but there is absolutely no case for this, as the stem cells that are needed for SCNT begin to emerge from day five. Again, there is no need for it; therefore, it will not be done. If there were a need for it, then it would have to come back here, we would have to consider the issues and make a decision at that time. I think that, when those time lines start getting fiddled with or are proposed to be fiddled with, we then have a real issue that people should seek to consider and ought to consider under the circumstances.
Ethical considerations, as I said earlier, are very important. Different views are held by people with a great deal of passion across the chamber. It is quite understandable, and I have a great deal of respect for those who hold views different from mine on these particular issues, but we ought to note that that situation also exists in the community, not just in this parliament. Representatives as we are, the fact is that the views held within this chamber are also held in the wider community and they are diverse. There are varying moral and ethical issues which come into play. For example, in their submission to the 2006 Senate inquiry into the private member’s bill, the Lockhart committee said:
The Committee was acutely aware of the special moral status attached to embryos and the concerns that many groups, particularly Christian churches, had regarding their destruction. But the Committee also recognised that not all communities in Australia attach the same significance to the embryo and that other concerns, such as the need to care for the sick and vulnerable and respect the wishes of individuals, are also morally important.
Why are embryonic stem cells necessary? Again, as I mentioned earlier in my quote from the speech back in 2002, it is premature to choose one type of research over another. We have to test both premises. We have to look at what they both provide. There is no doubt that both of them—adult and embryonic—provide opportunities for real advances in science, but at this stage we cannot say how much. We need to make sure that we test both premises within the constraints of the law. If we do that, hopefully we will see medical advances into the future.
The Lockhart review also put the focus on a current anomaly which the proposed bill will address. The 2002 Australian legislation allowed for the creation of human embryonic stem cell lines from fertilised human eggs that have become surplus to the needs of IVF implantation, which means that they would never be implanted into the woman’s uterus. But the 2002 legislation currently does not allow the creation of such human embryonic stem cell lines derived from an unfertilised human egg in the SCNT process which would also never be implanted into the woman’s uterus. This is a logically and ethically inconsistent situation. Maintaining the consistent logic of its ethical and scientific argument, the Lockhart report recommends that legislation be drafted to allow the use of unfertilised eggs as well as fertilised eggs for the creation of stem cell lines. This bill would enable that to happen.
I will not go into detail on the progress of research. There is no doubt that a range of claims has been made. But I think we have to be aware, when we come to issues of research, that outrageous claims will at times be made, and they ought to be looked at and they ought to be tested. Much has been made of what happened in South Korea. The point about that is that claims were made, but those claims were also assessed. They were peer reviewed, they were found to false and they were then treated as they should have been and discredited. Again, just because there is some bad research does not mean that you stop research.
Another issue which has come up recently and had quite a bit of comment—it is great to see so many from the other side here to listen to me; I gather that is why they are here—is the issue of foetal tissue and the circumstances of it. The member for Bass has an amendment relating to the issue of opponents of cloning saying that using foetal tissue, including eggs, for cloning amounts to allowing for an aborted baby girl to be used as a parent of embryos which will then be destroyed. I think that is understandable as a point to be made, but I think it is alarmist in the extreme.
This bill would allow the creation of embryos from a type of foetal cell consistent with the objectives of the equivalent research on human embryos. This is simply an extension of existing legal access to foetal tissues for a promising line of research that is also being undertaken elsewhere in the world. The use of cadaver and foetal tissues for research is permitted under state legislation and underpinned by guidelines issued by the National Health and Medical Research Council. The guidelines regulating the use of foetal tissues are separate to those governing assisted reproductive technology research. The bill specifically prohibits the creation of IVF embryos from foetal precursor cells by prohibiting the implantation into the body of a woman of an embryo created from foetal precursor cells. The bill limits the permitted development of such an embryo to not more than 14 days after fertilisation.
There are some final points I would like to make about Australia’s legislative and regulatory approach to these issues. We should not lose sight of the importance of the fact that Australia has an excellent national legislative regime in this area—one that covers all ART and research activities in Australia no matter where they are conducted or how they are funded. The enactment of this bill will see this regime backed up with very strong oversight and penalties. This regime is also backed up with a series of NHMRC guidelines that address informed consent, institutional ethics approval and the ethics of working with human subjects. Senator Colbeck’s amendment to this bill in the Senate will mean that there will be an opportunity to look at the current state and territory laws which govern the donation of human tissue and organs and their use in research. Finally, because this is an area where science, medicine and public opinion are all moving forward, the bill requires another review like the Lockhart review to report to the Council of Australian Governments and both houses of parliament within four years. We should not resile from this responsibility to follow the consequences and implications of our votes on this bill and the act it will amend.
Regardless of where we stand personally on these issues, we must acknowledge that these issues have been the subject of very adequate public scrutiny and debate, that they represent the views of the majority of Australians who do look for the very real medical and scientific advantages which will inevitably result one day in some way and that Australia has taken a very middle-of-the-road approach that allows research in this difficult area to proceed under strict guidelines. We have not banned it and we have not adopted the blinkered American approach, where federally funded research is limited and hamstrung but anything is possible in the privately funded sector.
Australia has a proud and sound record of balancing ethical, scientific and regulatory constraints with innovative progress. Australian scientists have not broken the rules in the use of recombinant DNA and genetically modified organisms and cloning, and they are not looking to do so. Australians have been altruistic volunteer donors of blood, human eggs and sperm. Despite the desperate shortage of organs for transplantation and the fact that human organs and tissues and eggs can be sold in some countries, that does not happen here because the law does not allow it.
There have been too many scare campaigns based on pseudoscience or no science at all and too many foolish statements about slippery slopes and the lack of research outcomes that ignore the facts. Of course we must recognise, with great courtesy and respect, that there are those who cannot support this legislation, and they, in return, must acknowledge that, in this pluralistic society, there are many views on these issues and that ethics is not the purview of any one group.
The 2001 report on human cloning by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs addressed this. It said:
One view of the status of the embryo should not be imposed on society as a whole especially when to do so may be to the detriment of those with serious or debilitating illness or disease. There is also a broader duty to society to be taken into account …
We need to distinguish the ethical and moral arguments from the scientific and biological ones, and we need to understand that they both have a place and a right to be heard. From time to time in our political life, we are given the opportunity to make important decisions that shape the future and determine what sort of country we will be. I believe that this is one of those cases. We are fortunate to be given a conscience vote in this case, although this does not make the decision to be made any easier.
I will finish with a quote, again from my speech in 2002, which I think encapsulates where we are up to:
There is the question of where we go from here in this issue. I respect the views of everyone in this debate. I am hopeful that the decision that I am personally taking is the correct one. I do not know if it is the correct one. I do not believe any of us can be sure about it. I believe on balance, under the circumstances, that support for this legislation is the correct decision to take at this time. This is a matter which will be moving forward and has been moving forward at quite a pace. It is something that needs to be evaluated on a continuing basis. It needs to continue to have complete scrutiny both from the public and the community at large, from scientific researchers on all sides and from government to ensure that the potential excesses that could occur are avoided. In the circumstances, I believe these things can take place in a way which allows us to examine and progress some of the potential opportunities for research. If those opportunities are successful, great. If they are not, then I think we have to see where we go from there, but I support the legislation.
My contribution to this debate will be relatively short, and I hope very much to the point. It has, as the previous speaker said, been a difficult issue. I have indicated publicly in the past that I was unresolved in my own mind as to how to vote. I have not found this quite as easy an issue to reach a conclusion on as some of the other conscience votes that the parliament has had in recent years.
I was heavily influenced in that state of indecision by the enormous respect I held for the late John Lockhart, whom I knew quite well. He was a person of immense intelligence and great personal decency, which I know he brought to the conclusions of his review. Sadly his life ended very abruptly—abruptly in the sense that he died a few weeks after the report was tabled.
There has been a lot of discussion about the basis people are using to form their views on the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006 and the extent to which one’s religious background and religious teaching can influence the conclusion they reach. As somebody who comes from what might loosely be called the mainstream of Protestant Christianity, I can recognise that Christian people of good conscience can reach diametrically opposed views on this legislation. I happen to have an enormous regard for Senator Kay Patterson, who sponsored this private member’s bill.
As always, a free vote brings out the best in parliament. I can respect very deeply the argument about the relief of human suffering, and I have wrestled with it, as has a person in the church whom I admire a great deal. Bishop Tom Frame indicated, when he spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald a few weeks ago, that as an Anglican bishop he was unresolved. He said: ‘I’m still unable to come to a conclusion that sits comfortably with my conscience. I’m not convinced that scientific experimentation on embryos is morally acceptable, but I’m sensitive to the needs of those who might benefit from the outcomes of the research.’ I do not think I could put my own view on this issue any more succinctly or any better than that.
I am not convinced, based on the evidence that has come forward in this debate, that the reasons behind why this parliament near-unanimously—or was it unanimously—voted in a particular direction some years ago have changed. I do not think the science has shifted enough to warrant the parliament changing its view, and for that reason I am going to vote against the bill. I am also, for another reason, going to vote against the bill—that is, I think we live in an age where we have slid too far into relativism. There must be some absolutes in our society. That is, in some senses, a religious or Christian view, but it is also an ethical view and it is a view of society that a person of no faith can hold very strongly.
I am not so censorious of alternative points of view in our community as to believe that you cannot, on balance, reach different points of view, but in the end you have to, as an individual, make a judgement on this. My own view is that to vote in favour of this bill is to embrace a relativist view of society and of the value of human life and what leads to it. This does, to use that cliche, get us perilously close to if not on to the slippery slope. It is a very big step indeed; it was a step this place was not willing to take some years ago, and I, therefore, will vote against this legislation.
If there is an amendment that has been mooted in the name of the member for Bass I will certainly vote in favour of that amendment and I hope that some who, whilst being on the other side of the debate, when it comes to the final crunch will consider supporting that. But after a lot of personal searching and some discussion with people close to me whose opinions I respect, but which I do not necessarily always follow, I have decided to vote against this legislation for the reason that, in the end, you have to take a stand for some absolutes in our society. I think what we are talking about here is a moral absolute, and that is why I cannot support the legislation.
Four years ago I spoke in the debate and voted on the Research Involving Embryos and Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill. I described my position then as one of that bill’s most reluctant supporters. Four years ago I found that debate to involve difficult questions of ethics and difficult questions of science. Four years later I find this debate to involve difficult questions of ethics and difficult questions of science.
Once again, unfortunately, there has been some inflammatory language used on both sides of the debate. This is in part because of passions legitimately raised about deep questions of life and deep questions concerning the preservation of life. In my mind each side of this debate is driven by, in the main, a deep compassion for human life—a deep compassion but differently understood. Therefore, this is a debate where no side should be arguing any absolute moral position, as if they have a monopoly of moral conscience. I certainly, in advancing the position which I will be putting to the parliament soon, do not argue such a position. For me this is again a complex question and, like the Prime Minister, I have actually spent a long time wrestling with the complexity of this debate.
When I last participated in this debate back in 2002 I referred then to the fact that my mother was a Parkinson’s sufferer. Parkinson’s is a truly terrible disease. It involves symptoms of the face, not being able to move, tremors—sufferers feel as if they are trapped in their own bodies. Many members in this place, I know, have family who have suffered from this terrible disease. The member for Petrie is one. I do not know if she is in the chamber at present. Her father is a sufferer. I attended a bipartisan fundraiser with her in Brisbane, not for our respective political parties—that would be odd—but for Parkinson’s Queensland.
I asked my mum then for her views on that vote four years ago. My mother was a Catholic from central casting. Her response when I put to her the question of what I should do in this vote was: ‘In the great traditions of the Church, Kev, that is a question for your conscience, not mine.’ She added that if it really helped, then maybe, just maybe, if you are talking about embryos left over from IVF—IVF of course being designed for the propagation of human life—they could be used. I voted for the legislation four years ago. Mum died two years ago, so she is not here to ask about this one.
She was treated by a marvellous doctor, Dr Peter Silburn, a leading Brisbane neurologist. I spoke to Dr Silburn recently about the current bill and its impact upon his current Parkinson’s research. Dr Silburn told me—and I hope I do not misrepresent him—that his research critically depends on adult stem cell research and not embryonic stem cell research and not the matters covered by this legislation.
Others from the medical science community have stated that they have different research needs. I understand that and respect that. I do not challenge the motivation behind their submissions to members of parliament and to the parliamentary committee which has looked at these matters in recent times. But we in this place are still left with dealing with the questions of ethics which underpin the legislation.
Many have asked what influence the Christian churches should have on ethical debates of this type. I have said before that the Christian churches are as entitled to engage in this debate as anyone else in the community. The Christian churches do not have a monopoly when it comes to questions of ethics. Fundamental ethical questions can be shaped by a range of theological and philosophical traditions. Four years ago I tried to put it in these following terms:
On the matter of ethics, I referred earlier to the guiding principles that I seek to apply to my conscience in the deliberations on the bill. These are principles that embrace the equal worth of all humanity, the protection of the weak from the strong, the minimisation of suffering, if suffering itself cannot be eliminated, and the contribution to the social good, not just the individual good, and in all things truth ...
That is what I said back then. My view has not changed much since then.
In previous conscience votes in this parliament these considerations—these ethical guidelines for me—have caused me to vote in favour of embryonic stem cell research in the 2002 bill and also in the other conscience vote to vote in favour of RU486 after much, much soul searching. I find it much more difficult to do so on this occasion with the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006. The reason is this: I find it very difficult to support a legal regime that results in the creation of a form of human life for the single and explicit purpose of conducting experimentation on that form of human life. Furthermore, I am concerned about the crossing of such an ethical threshold and where that may lead in the long term. For these reasons I will not be supporting the legislation, based on the information that is currently available to me.
I claim no moral superiority in this view whatsoever. We are all in this place on the basis of what we believe and we must be true to our beliefs. In reaching this decision I am acutely conscious of the hopes that those suffering from terrible diseases such as Parkinson’s and others have in future scientific research and innovation which, in their view, would proceed from the legislation, should it pass the House. I say again that it was for those reasons that I voted in favour of the legislation four years ago, but I cannot in conscience cross a further threshold now when we look at the legislation which is before us.
I realise that in taking this decision, which I have not taken lightly, I will disappoint many. But I have to be true to myself, even when it may be unpopular. Some say that, if you have such views on the creation of human embryos for experimentation, it mandates a classically conservative approach to a range of questions. I do not agree. I do not believe that Christian beliefs mandate a conservative position on human sexuality. These are very much matters for the individual—individual choices which should be respected, just as the privacy of people’s personal relationships should be respected.
However, questions concerning the protection of human life, in my mind, are of a different quality and therefore require a different quality of response. On the question of Christian teachings and beliefs, of course beyond these questions there are much broader questions of social justice and what we do in terms of the great questions of poverty and injustice in our country and around the world today. Based on these considerations and deliberations, I simply register to the House that I will not be supporting the legislation which is before it.
The Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006 that is being debated before the House is quite rightly one that has been categorised as being for individual members to exercise their own conscience and values on in judging whether it should be supported. From the outset, when this was first mooted to be moved as a private member’s bill in the other place, I made very publicly clear my view that it should be opposed. When we considered the recommendations of John Lockhart, I, along with others, supported the cabinet’s decision to reject them, particularly that recommendation with regard to therapeutic cloning. I should put on the record my admiration for John Lockhart and the work that he has done within his profession. In fact, I supported his nomination as one of the arbiters in the World Trade Organisation, and he did Australia proud in that position. He diligently went through the process of assessment in the task that he had undertaken in this regard, but I still believe that that recommendation was wrong.
When confronted with the sorts of decisions that are a part of this debate, I have always been a believer in the individual’s choice. In making that choice, you always reach back to your fundamental personal values that were often a part of your family upbringing and the environment in which each one of us was brought up. And that is certainly the circumstance in my case. I believe the object of this bill is morally wrong. It is an example of how good people can be seduced by the prospect of miracles into making terrible mistakes.
Four years ago this parliament passed the Prohibition of Human Cloning Act and the Research Involving Human Embryos Act. Those acts prohibit both reproductive and therapeutic human cloning. They prohibit the creation of human embryos except with the aim of achieving a pregnancy. They permit research to be carried out on excess embryos created through artificial reproductive technology. This bill would allow the creation of human embryo clones, but they would be marked for destruction after 14 days. This bill would create two classes of human beings in Australia—first, those embryos that were created through the normal process of procreation and birth, and, second, the embryos that were doomed not because of the risks involved in the pregnancy but because of this parliament’s decision to allow researchers to create them and then destroy them. All of those embryos are human, because human life begins at conception.
I am reminded of a novel called Never Let Me Go and a similar movie called The Island. The novel was actually nominated for the Booker Prize last year. Sometimes the best way that we can put our views into perspective is to see them mirrored in fiction. This novel tells the story of children who grow up at what appears to be an exclusive private school, but by the end of the book we discover that the children are clones and were created to be organ donors. There is even a euphemism for what happens when their last organs are harvested in this fictional book. They are not said to die; they are said to ‘complete’.
If we reflect on history, sometimes today’s fiction has a habit of becoming tomorrow’s reality. I am sure supporters of the bill may be horrified at some of the analogies and the graphic commentary that is being used in this debate. They would say that there is an enormous difference between cloned embryos that are killed at 14 days and living men and women, fictionally, that might be created and used to harvest organs. Maybe they are right, but the difference is only by degree—because if you believe in the fundamental principle that the human being is created at conception then it is only by degree. In some respects the fate of the real cloned embryos would be even worse than the fate of the imaginary children in that fictional novel. At least these fictional clones knew the feel of the sunlight on their faces and you could imagine that some of them were even able to escape.
This bill would inevitably open the way to even more experimentation and more radical technologies. It includes its own mechanism to generate pressure for more amendments, because it would require another independent review in three years time. In three years the changes in this bill will be seen as part of the legal landscape—as the basis for a review that would use the amended act as its starting point for making further amendments rather than looking at the original act and recognising that it was wrong. It is like a ratchet. Once you have agreed to experiment on excess embryos, it is not a huge step to agree to therapeutic cloning. Once you have agreed to therapeutic cloning, it is not that much of a leap to agree to reproductive cloning. Step by step, review by review, this parliament is in danger of passing laws that it would have rejected outright if they had all been introduced at the same time, in a relative sense.
The supporters of the bill argue that it would open the way to medical breakthroughs in the treatment of diseases like Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and maybe even some cancers. I am a survivor of cancer—one of the most invasive cancers that is known to human beings. But, through medical research and science as we know it today, we are finding cures for many of what have historically been incurable diseases. Our government has announced that we are going to introduce one for cervical cancer to the broader population as soon as possible. But science as we know it today is doing that.
It would be wonderful to be able to cure all of these diseases, but I believe the cost is too great if it can only be done by experimenting on cloned embryos and then destroying them. It would introduce a great and devastating sadness into the heart of our health system. Everyone cured with these treatments would have to live with the knowledge that their health was only possible because of the deliberate creation and then destruction of human lives.
I have no doubt, knowing all the people involved in this debate, that the supporters of this debate mean well. They are good people and want to achieve the worthwhile result of curing terrible diseases. We all want that outcome. But I believe their good intentions have led them to a terrible mistake—as I described it, a sort of ratchet mechanism that keeps dragging us forward and doing more and more and more, and ending up moving towards that fictional outcome written in the novel I mentioned. We must not attempt to achieve good ends through what I believe are immoral means. I urge the House to vote against this bill. I, too, will support the mooted amendment if it comes forward. But I will be voting against the substantive bill.
There are strong arguments for opposing the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006, and equally there are strong arguments for supporting its passage through this House. The arguments are technically complex but also require members to reach their own moral, ethical and reasoned conclusions. I respect all of the views expressed by members who have contributed to this debate without fear or favour, and I have listened closely to their contributions.
This debate is about saving life. However you look at it, whether you support the bill or oppose the bill, it is fundamentally about saving life. I can easily understand why those who have family members suffering from, for example, Parkinson’s disease would find it difficult to say no to a possible life-saving treatment that may be availed by a yes vote on this bill. I also have the opinion that research should not be pushed underground into underfunded, unregulated Frankenstein’s monster types of black markets and that responsibly governed bodies like the National Health and Medical Research Council are well placed to monitor and regulate licences and practices in this contentious environment. Yes, there is an argument that one life should not be created and then destroyed for the purpose of saving another life. I would suggest, however, that the diggers who were conscripted against their will and who sacrificed their own lives so that others could live in a better world might well argue an opposing view.
Conversely, as a father I have great regard for the concern expressed to me by Rachel Jenner, a young Territory mother in my electorate of Solomon. Rachel advised that she saw, via ultrasound, her two sons when they were only eight cells big, or three days old. To her, that image represented life and hope in the future and, to her, those eight cells were sacrosanct. To her mind, embryos are sacrosanct.
I also share the concerns that there are health risks for women with regard to egg harvesting as well as the concern that women will be exploited in order for scientists to gain access to more eggs. I am also concerned that there are dangers, such as cancer formation, inherent in the research and clinical application of human embryonic stem cells.
I would love to be able to say thank you to all those people and groups in my electorate who have taken the time to inform me of their views on this issue. However, considering the high-profile nature and fundamental importance of this very public debate, there has been an extraordinarily low response from my electorate. Unfortunately, I must inform this place that I have been given no clear direction at all from my constituents on this matter. I have received two pieces of correspondence in favour of supporting the bill and two pieces of correspondence opposing support for the bill. I of course sincerely thank these people for contacting me. I took it upon myself to go out and actively canvass the issue in my electorate to find out what people really think. I and my office staff contacted many of our friends and associates, and what we found was that sentiment was split fifty-fifty down the middle and that this issue, if our straw poll reflected the views of constituents, is not a matter of high importance to the vast majority of people in Solomon. Therefore, due to this bill offering hope to people with dreadful afflictions but at the same time being ethically and morally debatable, and due to the fact that I have no clear direction at all from my constituents, my conscience tells me that I must abstain from the voting process.
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.
in reply—I would like to thank everyone who participated in this debate. I think the debate has been a good debate from both sides, my opponents’ side and supporters’ side. I note that Kay Patterson is in the chamber behind me. She did a wonderful job. I also want to thank in particular Natasha Stott Despoja, Ruth Webber, Claire Moore and all the people here for putting this bill together. It is a fabulous piece of work. Basically I do not want to discuss this too much more; I want to just thank people. I want to thank the scientists. I think they put a lot of effort into the Lockhart review. Mrs Juliet Lockhart is up in the gallery. Juliet, thanks for being here and for all your husband’s great work. It was a tremendous job and it was a sensational committee.
Basically, the fact is undeniable that the wider our net of research the more we enable our great scientists to have ethical research, and this is ethical research, and the greater our possibilities of finding treatments for those chronic and intractable diseases that are 70 per cent of the afflictions that our population suffers. No-one can deny the reality that the more we open our avenues of research, the greater our possibilities of finding treatments for these horrific diseases that affect our population. So no-one can argue against the science.
On the ethics, everyone is entitled to their view, and I respect their view. Kay Hull, who has just spoken, is a good friend of mine and I respect her view too. I think everyone has done this with great sincerity. However, the ethics are based on a falsehood. What I hear is not anything to do with the mammalian or human science that I have been taught as a medical doctor. There are no life forms unless we have an embryo—that is true—to start with. But it has to then go through the procedure of intrauterine implantation and be there in that uterus in a successful way and grow for at least 20-plus weeks to have any life or success of life. Anything short of that is a hoax.
The contraceptive pill used by 30 per cent of our women, for example, stops implantation of fertilised embryos, which are fertilised in the tube but do not implant in the uterus. The same argument would stop the use of contraceptive pills, would stop the use of the intrauterine contraceptive device and of course would make us implant every embryo from IVF programs into our women. Who would condone that? Italy does actually have a law like that. If we tested for abnormality, all the normal ones would have to be implanted—otherwise we would be unethical under the debate I have heard, which argues against my point of view. That is quite unreasonable. In fact, it is frankly ridiculous. But, if you extrapolate, that is what you are talking about.
This debate today is about allowing our scientists with those in the rest of the major countries in the world, including the US of A, the UK, Singapore, Israel, Sweden, China, Japan, South Korea et cetera, to cooperate in a global struggle to treat these horrible diseases, many of which have been mentioned today. Are we close? Yes, we are close. Just recently Nature, a top magazine, reported that human embryonic cell generated pancreatic tissue generating insulin and other pancreatic hormones was developed and stabilised. The reality is that we may not be so far away. No-one can promise what is going to happen tomorrow, but there is no justification to stop our scientists researching what is now part of a global phenomenon.
The other thing I want to mention and remind people of is that three states at least in this country will legislate to have this technology made legal. I think without national leadership that would be a crying shame. So if the debate is lost, it will happen anyway. People who debated against it will use the products of it, as normally happens, and they are entitled to do that. I do not deny them that. But I think they have to remember that it is for their kids. If they do not want it for themselves, why not want it for their kids and grandkids? I am sure we will have breakthroughs.
Chris Pyne is a good friend of mine. Chris, I am sorry to use names here. I admired your speech and your sincerity. We have amendments. Chris is a genuine man. I listened very carefully to what he said. I have a great affection for him. He does not share my views on this, but I have a great affection for him that is very sincere. He said he found this bill to be so repugnant to him—those might not have been his exact words but Chris will correct me—
and therefore why would you have amendments when you were never going to vote for this bill anyway? I will speak to the amendments later in more detail; this is not the appropriate time for me to do that. But I admire your stance, Chris. I think more members of this House should do that, and I hope the people on your side of this debate respect your views. I certainly do. With that, I will sit down and let it get on.
That this bill be now read a second time.