House debates

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

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

Consideration in Detail

Bill—by leave—taken as a whole.

6:31 pm

Photo of Michael FergusonMichael Ferguson (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move amendments (1) and (2):

(1) Schedule 1, item 7, page 10 (lines 17 to 27), omit section 23A, substitute:

23A Offence—using precursor cells from a human embryo or a human fetus to create a human embryo, or developing such an embryo

Maximum penalty: Imprisonment for 10 years.

The second reading stage of this debate has been concluded. The House, in principle, has agreed to the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006. Accepting that result, it is appropriate, fair and reasonable for a member to move amendments which could do one of two things: either improve this bill while it is in this House or make it less bad, depending on your perspective.

Mr Speaker, through you, I appeal to my colleagues, my fellow members of the House of Representatives, to look once more into their conscience, to reflect on what their communities would be looking for in their home electorates and to challenge themselves, as I have, about the prospect of returning home to our electorates, eye-balling our constituents and admitting that the opportunity to remove a very ugly section of this bill was not taken.

The fact of the matter is that the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006 contains the exact recommendation reflected in recommendation 27 of the Lockhart review. If passed as it now stands, this would allow the creation of embryos using an aborted baby girl’s immature eggs. This is presently prohibited by law. If this bill passes as it stands that will change. My amendments preserve the current prohibition on the use of precursor cells from a foetus for the creation of an embryo. None of us should be left in any doubt about this—it is to maintain a current prohibition.

In plain terms, if this bill succeeds in this House without amendment, it will be quite possible in the future under Australian law for an aborted female foetus to become the mother, if you like, of an embryo which will itself eventually be destroyed by research. This proposition has been rejected by the British parliament. It has been rejected in the United States, by former President Clinton. The issue has resurfaced as recently as 2003 in Israel, where Dr Tal Biron-Shental announced that her team had successfully conducted work on maturing egg follicles from the ovarian tissue of seven aborted human foetuses ranging from 22 to 33 weeks gestation—very late term.

That report led to widespread condemnation from around the world of the proposal that these eggs could be used for IVF treatment and, indeed, further research. Eggs could only be derived from aborted foetuses of at least 16 weeks gestation. The method of abortion would have to result in the foetal body being delivered intact and as near to alive as possible in order to harvest the ovarian tissue while it was still fresh, and immediately frozen for its subsequent use. Mr Speaker, I apologise for the graphic nature of that description, but it can be made no more politely than that.

My friend and colleague the member for Moore, in his speech in the second reading debate on this bill, addressed this question. He said:

Human foetal tissue is already accessible to Australian researchers and has been available since 1980.

He went on to say:

This is simply an extension of existing legal access to foetal tissue already occurring in Australia and in other countries in the world.

It is true that there is already legal access to some foetal tissue for some research purposes in Australia and, indeed, in other countries. However, there is a significant, profound medical and moral difference between using foetal tissue such as bone, pancreas or liver tissue in laboratory research and taking precursor cells—that is, cells with a reproductive capacity from an aborted foetus—not just for the purpose of some weighing or analytical chemical composition research but for the purpose of creating an embryo. It is a quantum shift in Australian science which is being proposed today.

I urge my colleagues to accept these amendments. We will of course, as we all must, accept that this House has in principle agreed to this bill. I am disappointed about that, but as the member for Bass I take my right to speak up and, if I can, to salvage some aspect of this bill and to have the ugliest aspect removed. I believe it is consistent with the reasonable expectations of the people from my community. As hard as it is to speak on behalf of such a large number of people, I believe it is fair to say that this expectation would be reflected around Australia. I commend the amendments to the House.

6:37 pm

Photo of Julia GillardJulia Gillard (Lalor, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Manager of Opposition Business in the House) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

6:41 pm

Photo of Tony AbbottTony Abbott (Warringah, Liberal Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the amendments, which have been well and eloquently moved by the member for Bass. In so doing, I wish to comment on a couple of points that have been raised by the member for Lalor. This is complicated and, at the end of these comments, I will table some advice from the Parliamentary Library that I think casts some light on these matters. But the points I want to make essentially are these.

As things stand, it is impossible at law to use eggs from aborted foetuses for research or other purposes. Yes, it is possible to use material from aborted foetuses for other purposes; but, as things stand, it is not possible to use eggs from aborted foetuses for research or for other purposes. The Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006, as moved by Senator Patterson in the Senate and as passed by this House at its second reading stage, would permit eggs from aborted foetuses to be used for research purposes and for cloning. That is the first point I want to make.

The second point I want to make is that, yes, a regulatory regime is in place for the use of material from aborted foetuses—and that has been referred to by the member for Lalor. But the bill we have just passed does not make that regulatory regime mandatory. If the member for Lalor were to be consistent, she would seek to move a different amendment perhaps to those which the member for Bass has moved. But, with the way this bill stands, she does not ensure that the regulatory regime that normally would cover the use of material from aborted foetuses applies to eggs taken from aborted foetuses for the purposes of research or cloning. So under this bill, if it is not amended in the way proposed by the member for Bass, there will be a perfect ability for researchers to use eggs from aborted foetuses. There will be no necessary regulatory regime covering this.

I point out to the member for Lalor and others that the bill we have just read a second time does require that there will be licensing restrictions in other respects but specifically not in this respect, and that is why I think the amendments moved by the member for Bass are so important to remove perhaps the most objectionable feature of this bill. Certainly I regard this bill as bad in principle, but I think it is incumbent upon members of this parliament to try to improve legislation. Even if we believe that the legislation is bad in principle, it is incumbent on us to try to make it as unobjectionable as possible. I think that the amendments of the member for Bass do that. To assist the House, I table the Parliamentary Library’s advice.

6:45 pm

Photo of John MurphyJohn Murphy (Lowe, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to support these amendments and I congratulate the member for Bass for this initiative. I do not believe that it is a valid argument that, if these amendments are supported, this will then put the Senate in a position where it has to reconsider the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006, having passed it before it came to this place. When you look at these conscience votes, they have historically been initiated here before they went to the Senate. I am most concerned at the lobbying that was done and the way that the bill was introduced into the Senate to get it through the Senate.

My friend and colleague the member for Menzies chaired the cloning inquiry from 2000 to 2002. I was on that committee, along with the member for Mitchell, and I have a clear recollection of visiting the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development where we were shown all these embryonic stem cells which had been obtained from Singapore for the purposes of medical research. All that those scientists asked of us was that we would allow them to continue the research that they were doing and to have sufficient stem cells to supply the needs of Australia and possibly other parts of the world. That is true—and members know that. The legislation went so far as to allow them to have those surplus embryos for a finite period. That parliament supported that and the scientists went away in 2002 satisfied.

But we know that with scientists the ground is ever rolling out from under our feet. From the debate that has taken place in this place and in the Senate, I am certain we will be here in a few years time debating something else to do with thos legislation. If for no other reason than that the Senate passed this bill such a short time ago after a very political and skilful campaign by the scientific and cloning lobby, we—all of us who protect life from the womb to the tomb—have a duty to support these amendments to give the Senate another opportunity to put a search engine through its conscience. For me, this is not a scientific question; it is a moral question.

How can any of us possibly compete with the scientists? I have referred to the member for Menzies and the member for Mitchell, who are sitting here tonight and who were on that cloning inquiry. We cannot compete with the scientists. Of course the scientists are going to advance arguments. They gave us a legitimate expectation that someone like Christopher Reeve would perhaps one day get out of his wheelchair. Sadly for Christopher Reeve, he passed away. There was an expectation that people who suffer the terrible afflictions of motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease or diabetes would have some miraculous cure. We all know that there have been no significant gains in relation to that research over that period, nor is there any realistic likelihood that such will take place in the foreseeable future. I exhort every person in this place to support the amendments of the member for Bass. I exhort the Senate to once again examine its conscience, reconsider all the issues associated with this legislation and vote again—but this time to vote to defeat Senator Patterson’s bill.

6:50 pm

Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

I do not want to keep the House very long but I do want to clear up my own position on these amendments. In the substantive debate on the second reading of the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006, I made the point that to me this bill was so unacceptable and so objectionable that it was unable to be improved and that no amendment could make it an attractive bill because its basic tenets are completely antithetical to anyone who believes in a human life as the principal defining characteristic of a civilised society. I was unaware at that time that there would be amendments moved, but amendments have now been moved by my friend the honourable member for Bass, and it would be remiss of me not to vote in favour of these amendments. It would also be remiss of me not to explain to the House why I am changing my position from the original debate.

My view is that, if we can salvage anything from the wreckage of passing this bill 20 minutes ago, we should try and do so. If we can, by passing these amendments, stop the practice of extracting stem cells from aborted female foetuses, then it really is incumbent upon all right-thinking people to vote for these amendments in order to make the bill as unobjectionable as possible. In these few brief words, I would ask my colleagues to search their consciences and their views about this bill, forget about whether they voted in favour or against the second reading and think clearly about what these amendments propose. It is not a clever artifice designed to try and defeat aspects of the bill. These are genuine amendments that would stop the use of aborted female foetuses for the extraction of stem cells. I would ask people to vote for them.

6:52 pm

Photo of John AndersonJohn Anderson (Gwydir, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I say at the outset that amongst the scuttlebutt that has passed around the place is the sense, when it became evident that an amendment was going to be moved, that this was somehow a tricky device—‘stunt’ was the word used by some—to force it back into the Senate where perhaps there might be a different vote. I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for being so frank as to say that she has a concern about that and to face that possibility front-on. This for me is not about a stunt at all. I do find this particular provision in a bill that I cannot support anyway to be quite odious. I have absolutely no doubt that every member of this House would have a very significant number of people in their electorates—I suspect a clear majority in every electorate—of good conscience and great decency who would be horrified to know that we had not put beyond doubt that it would not be defensible or legal in this country to create embryos using eggs from aborted female foetuses. I genuinely believe that. I ask all members of this place to stop and think what will happen when a person of decency whose views have to be respected asks them in their electorate why they did not take the opportunity to put this beyond doubt.

The advocates of the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006 have been trying to reassure us that there are sufficiently tight guidelines or, where there are no guidelines, that they will be devised over the next six months by the National Health and Medical Research Council. I make the observation that in the recent Senate inquiry there was a question put to the Lockhart members about whether their recommendation 26 that creation of embryos using precursor cells from a human embryo or a human foetus should be permitted under licence was intended to allow the creation of embryos by fertilisation using ova obtained from a foetus. Lockhart members on 25 October replied, ‘The committee’s recommendations envisaged that an embryo could be created for research in this way.’

The bill reflects the objectives of Lockhart. I thought that was what we were on about. So I can see no room for obfuscation here. In simple terms, the legal advice from the Parliamentary Library says that the result in effect of the amendments to the bill will be such that it will remove the licensing aspect of the activity in the bill, replacing it with a blanket prohibition. I cannot for the life of me see why that is not a reasonable and safe thing to do. I do not believe for a moment that, if the Australian people were fully aware of the possibilities allowed for under the licensing, this would be something they could embrace.

It is the end of the year and we all want to go home—no-one more than me, as I think is well known around this place; I have had 18 years in the place and I look forward to a different life—but if on a matter of this importance we want to say, ‘No, it should not go back to the Senate,’ we deserve the hearty condemnation of the people we represent. This is an important matter. It does go to very deeply held convictions in our society about the value and the sanctity of life upon which our very freedoms and our very culture are built. Many of us have a very real concern that our culture is under threat, that it is being weakened and that we are losing sight of the great values that made us the free people we are. Many of us and many of our constituents feel very deeply that it is time we called a halt—that in this relativist age we see, as the Prime Minister said, that there are some absolutes. I believe that one absolute we all ought to be prepared to embrace in all seriousness and we ought to put beyond doubt—and I say this with all the conscience I can muster despite the fact that it is close to Christmas and people want to go home—is that we are not going to allow the possibility of the creation of embryos from aborted female foetuses under any circumstances.

6:57 pm

Photo of Brendan NelsonBrendan Nelson (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

It gives me no pleasure to disagree with the member for Gwydir, for whom I have a very high regard. I too want to go home, but there are a lot of people in this country who also want to live. In 1980, research on aborted foetuses was approved and it has occurred for the subsequent quarter of the century. As morally repugnant as any of us find the idea of research on an aborted foetus, the fact is that it has occurred and our understanding and treatment of many diseases, particularly those specific to women and ovarian diseases in particular, has progressed as a result of women who for a variety of reasons have agreed to have their aborted foetuses researched. In an ideal world there would be no aborted foetuses, and I have the highest regard for some of my colleagues sitting immediately behind me who have campaigned all of their lives to see that this is limited as much as it can be. The fact is that the law and the regulations and guidelines of the National Health and Medical Research Council restrict that research to foetuses less than 20 weeks, and that is very ably administered by the Minister for Health and Ageing.

The concept of conducting somatic cell nuclear transfer on a cell derived from an aborted foetus is, I agree with the member for Gwydir, something about which many of my constituents will say to me, ‘Dr Nelson, what is this all about? Why did you,’ as I will, ‘basically vote in support of that continuing?’ Firstly, the science at the moment is not yet sufficiently mature for that to be able to occur. It could proceed, however, under the legislation as it stands. Throughout all of the very detailed inquiries by the Senate committee, this issue was not specifically raised. That does not necessarily mean that all wisdom resides in the Senate inquiry.

But I would put to you that, if an aborted foetus has been provided by a woman for research, and if that research includes the production of an embryo through somatic cell nuclear transfer—governed by this legislation to exist for no more than 14 days and from that research give the kind of hope which is embedded in the science that is offered by it—then frankly I do not see an enormous amount of difference from what has actually been proposed. In fact, one could argue, as morally repugnant as it quite rightly is to many people in this parliament and to many people in the community, that in many ways it is different but provides the same outcome is an ovum produced from an adult woman.

With the greatest respect, I do not support the amendment. I admire the conviction and I admire the motives of those who put it up. And I too join with the member for Gwydir in criticising those who suggested that this is some sort of clever political ploy on the part of those who put it forward. I know the member for Bass very well, and I know that he has a longstanding conviction with regard to this. But with the greatest of respect, some of the things that have been said are not correct. I do not support the amendment.

7:01 pm

Photo of Sophie MirabellaSophie Mirabella (Indi, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to thank the member for Bass for this thoughtful amendment to the legislation in the final week of the parliamentary year. Many others are preoccupied with more frivolous activities perhaps, and everyone wants to get home, but I do think we have a responsibility to try to improve legislation. Even if we think that the intention of it is terrific and we support most of it, improvements should be made without fear that something else may happen to the bill in another place. I was quite moved by the words of the member for Gwydir, and there is much wisdom in those words.

In seeking to support this amendment, let us look at what it actually does. The amendment seeks to remove a provision in the bill that, if left to stand, will be a decisive step into darkness and into the sort of scientific depravity I talked of in my speech the other day. Let us not mince words; let us not try to obfuscate and use value-neutral words and talk about tissue. There is a huge difference between tissue and eggs. There may well be a longstanding practice in scientific circles in this country to use foetal tissue from aborted foetuses, but this is not tissue we are talking about; we are talking about eggs. If we were talking just about tissue, then aborted male foetuses could also be used. But we are talking about using the eggs from aborted foetuses, and this really does disturb me more than any other piece of legislation that has come to this House in my five short years here.

But why is the provision in the bill? Is it thought that aborted baby girls are already a source of eggs for cloning? Are they intended to make up for some sort of shortfall in adult women who can be persuaded to undergo the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation to donate eggs for cloning? Whatever the reason a woman is in a position that she needs to abort her baby, how dare we propose that a doctor be authorised to approach her and suggest that the aborted baby effectively be made a mother of a human embryo that will also be destroyed? This is sick science and this is bad law, and I urge every member of this House to support the amendment.

I cannot believe that every single person who supports the thrust of the bill feels comfortable with this particular provision. I hope they are prepared to stand on the record and be counted to prevent this quite bizarre but very real scenario from occurring if this amendment fails. I am a bit of a pessimist. I think that, even if this amendment gets up and is incorporated as part of the bill, the cloning bill will still pass. But it will be slightly improved and probably the most offensive part of it will have been excised. I cannot add to any of the words from the previous speakers in support of this amendment, but I wish to remind members of the House: let us not try to pretend these are some invisible bits of tissue from some unwanted and rejected foetus. We are talking about harvesting the eggs from foetuses, and we should stop and think about that for a minute. I urge all members of this House to think about that and to support this amendment.

7:06 pm

Photo of De-Anne KellyDe-Anne Kelly (Dawson, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I acknowledge the good intent of all of those who speak in this debate, however I do want to pick up on some arguments against this amendment. I thank the member for Bass for his thoughtfulness in finding an aspect of the original bill that has been overlooked and which, as we have discussed it further, has caused a good deal of disquiet in this House and beyond.

I want to go to the question of the Senate, which the member for Lalor has raised. We should not foreshadow what will occur in the Senate, nor should we allow members of the House of Representatives to work in less than good conscience, which I have no doubt they all do, by presupposing what the Senate might or might not do. Nor should we look on our Senate colleagues and suppose that, in addressing this amendment, they will not exercise good conscience.

There is no trickery here. We should give due respect to the members of the House of Representatives that they can deal with an amendment rightly without some alleged object in mind to do with the other house. We should also trust our Senate colleagues to deal in good conscience with what comes from the House. So I think those arguments should be set aside. This amendment has been brought in good faith and we must deal with it on its merits in good faith, without looking over our shoulder at what the Senate might or might not do, because they will in good conscience make their own decisions.

I want to make some points, which others have made, about this amendment. At present in Australia precursor cells are indeed used in biomedical research, but they have never been used to create a human embryo. In 2002 both houses of this good parliament voted to ensure that the practice of using precursor cells to create human embryos was prohibited under section 17 of the Prohibition of Human Cloning Act 2002.

Having dealt with the substance of the bill, we now find that hidden within the bill—and I do not say deliberately—is yet another significant change. We are not talking about tissue; we are talking about eggs. There is serious public disquiet about what is being proposed. The Minister for Defence used the term ‘morally repugnant’, although he in good conscience supports the present motivation of the bill, and I respect that. But it is morally repugnant. A female foetus who will herself die will become a mother to an embryo created also to die. Can I say that it is almost a form of intergenerational death. This is something that is greatly concerning to those in the public who have become aware of it in the short time for debate on this bill. Others have said ‘morally repugnant’. I agree: it is morally repugnant.

Can I go back for a moment to the slippery slide on which we now find ourselves. Professor Sherley, who is an expert in adult stem cells, has said that the asymmetrical division of adult stem cells does not extend to embryonic stem cells, and that the cures and the results being sought are almost impossible to achieve. Time will not allow me to go into the science behind that. Now we are being asked to take another very serious and morally repugnant step in the public’s eye to justify what so far has not been proved to be effective science in the laboratory on animals. (Time expired)

7:11 pm

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the amendment moved by the member for Bass. As I said in my second reading remarks, I oppose this bill because it has the effect of commodifying human life and, as my friend, the member for Lowe—who was on the committee which I chaired four years ago along with the member for Mitchell and others—found, the goalposts are moving all the time. The member for Lowe said that.

In the first place we were told all we needed was just four embryonic stem cell lines. That then moved. We are now in a situation where we have more than 100,000 embryos left over from IVF procedures in Australia in frozen storage. Under the law which currently exists and was passed by this parliament just four years ago, they are able to be used for research. There have been very few applications to use those embryos for research—and very few have been used for research—yet we are deciding today that we are going to allow embryos to be created over and above that 100,000 specifically for research.

The problem which is highlighted by this amendment is the basic flaw so far as the science is concerned, because this science will only work if there is a ready supply of eggs. The reality is that women, quite rightly, will not readily supply eggs given the health concerns and the ethical and moral objections that many have to that. Indeed, if you look at what has taken place in Great Britain, eggs will only be supplied by women where there is some commercial incentive to do so. That is the reality. So not only are we commodifying human life; we are then treating women as egg suppliers in a commercial sense. If that is not sufficient, then we have the proposition that you can obtain the reproductive material necessary for this science by looking to aborted female foetuses.

I say to honourable members who are listening to this debate: how many of you actually understood, before this amendment was proposed, that this legislation allowed this procedure to occur and allowed it to occur in a manner, which the Minister for Health and Ageing has pointed out, that is largely free of other regulatory processes? How many of you will go back to your constituents in your electorates and be able to honestly, frankly and sincerely stand up in front of those constituents and say to them: ‘I voted in full knowledge for a procedure which involved taking the reproductive cells from an aborted female foetus in order to create an embryo in order to carry out destructive research on an embryo’? Does anybody seriously suggest that this procedure has the support of the majority of the Australian people? I do not believe for one moment that this procedure has the support of the majority of the Australian people.

It was not that long ago that we had a debate in this place in which there were various views about questions of abortion. The one thing that came through strongly from that debate was that almost every member of this place said that there is too much abortion in Australia. We had various responses to that particular proposal, about which people came to their decision in various ways, but almost all said that there is too much of it. Yet, here we are, on the cusp of actually allowing aborted female foetuses to be farmed for their reproductive cells in order to create an embryo in order in turn to destroy that embryo. I simply do not believe that in any way the majority of Australians support this procedure, and I would urge honourable members to vote for the amendment.

7:16 pm

Photo of Tony WindsorTony Windsor (New England, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I support the amendment, and I support the words of the member for Gwydir. I thought he covered the subject extremely well.

Photo of John AndersonJohn Anderson (Gwydir, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It must be Christmas time!

Photo of Tony WindsorTony Windsor (New England, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

It must be Christmas time. If we are making decisions such as this based on the view of the proponents of the legislation that there may well be a change made in the Senate, I think it is a dreadful premise to base a decision on. I have not heard a logical argument to support not voting for this amendment. The Minister for Defence made some comments, but he essentially talked about tissue, not eggs. The member for Lalor has not put a convincing argument as to why this amendment should not be accepted. I do not support the legislation, and I will not support the legislation, but I would suggest to the proponents of the bill and those other members who are listening—and I take the member for Menzies’ comments on board—that a lot of people would not have realised that the legislation will allow these procedures to occur.

I think it is very important that those proponents of the legislation do not vote against this amendment just because they believe the original bill may well be threatened in the Senate. So I suggest to the proponents that, with the lack of logical argument against the amendment, they not call the division against this amendment. I did not support the legislation in the second reading, but I think this is a very important issue that we are making a decision on, and we will be judged by the people within our electorates. I am sure in all our electorates there are people who believe the bill is a positive thing and there are others who do not. I believe the majority of people in my electorate are not in favour of the legislation. I am sure in all our electorates they would not be in favour of legitimising a practice which is about the removal of ova—not the removal of tissue—for scientific research based on tissue. I am sure that there would be no electorate where a majority of people would agree with that practice. In conclusion, I urge all members to support the amendment, because if they do not it is something that they will have to live with in their own consciences for a very long time.

7:19 pm

Photo of Steven CioboSteven Ciobo (Moncrieff, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am aware of the short time left, so I will keep my remarks relatively brief. I would like to touch on good law, bad law and political tactics. I would illustrate the differences in these by putting this proposition before the chamber: if the amendment that the member for Bass is currently putting before the House had been put and accepted in the Senate, how many of those who are supporting this bill here in the lower house would have moved to overturn it? If the member for Bass’s amendment to deny the opportunity to scientists to use the eggs of aborted foetuses had been accepted in the Senate—and I sincerely believe it would have been accepted had it been put—how many of those who will stand to vote against this amendment would have supported a move to allow access to these eggs of aborted foetuses in order to allow this science to go ahead?

What I am saying is: if the genuine motive is science then, fine, do not support the amendment. But to all of those who support this bill and would vote against this amendment on the basis of political tactics—because they do not want the arguments to stand on their merits back in the upper house—then be aware that you will be recognised as doing that as a political tactic rather than believing in the science that lies behind it. So I simply put that proposition to the House. Irrespective of whether you support or do not support the bill, you should recognise that allowing this is bad law. If it had been moved and passed in the Senate, which I suspect it would have been, I also suspect that there would be very few, if any, who would have moved an amendment in order to knock it out and to allow this legislation through.

7:21 pm

Photo of Mal WasherMal Washer (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to talk to the amendment. Basically, the argument boils down to the fact that foetal tissue has, as we know, been used since 1980. It has been under National Health and Medical Research Council control since October 1983. These are very strict controls. We have a very excellent minister who oversees the National Health and Medical Research Council. The council also has an ethics committee. The legislation coming from recommendations made by the Lockhart review, as expressed here, lifts the ban on the use of these primordial ovarian cells that can be used to make eggs. That would still come under the strict regulation of the National Health and Medical Research Council and of course has to have a proper ethical contribution in terms of donations from the parents of this aborted child.

When you talk about later term abortions—over, say, 12 to 14 weeks—there are many sad cases of spontaneous abortions. In other words, they are miscarriages; they are not surgically terminated pregnancies. When you get into this area of pregnancy stage, I hate abortion. I think I am on the record saying that. I am very genuine about that: I want to try to prevent it. I think, Michael, that you are pretty genuine, too. I apologise—it was a late-stage amendment and I was a bit suspicious, but, with good Christmas cheer, I will give you the benefit of the doubt.

However, I want to express this: at the end of the day, a lot of late-stage abortions are done for very good maternal reasons. This element of abortion comes back in. It is yuck—of course it is yuck. No-one likes abortions. But it is sad. Women can get breast cancer and need a termination. Or say there is a foetal abnormality. There has to be a very good reason for this. Sometimes Mother Nature unfortunately intervenes and does it for you.

This amendment denies me—say I have that tragedy and am a parent of this foetus that has been aborted for whatever reason—and takes away my rights. That is what you are doing with this amendment. You can say that I can have all the tissues in this foetus used for any other purpose. The science is not there yet: we cannot yet make eggs suitable for nuclear transfer. But the future may bring this. This is why I would like to see this stay. This is why it is here. Why would you deny me the right? Take all my rellies and close friends. Say I had this tragic loss and I donated all my organs. What is the difference? I would make sure that whoever was left could take an organ from me. Terrific! They will keep me alive, even with brain death, and cut me open. My heart still pumps. It sounds yuck but it is great: I might help someone else. It sounds yuck, but I might help you, Michael—and I would like to do that.

What is the difference between foetal tissue and donating any tissue for retinal research or whatever? We could one day possibly save women the hyperstimulation to produce eggs if you or I or any of us had the right to say that science had moved forward—which it does and can do—and that you can create eggs from this tissue. We are not hurting anyone. The foetus is dead. We may help a lot of people. Why would you take away my right to do that?

Question put:

That the amendments (Mr Michael Ferguson’s) be agreed to.