Senate debates

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

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

Third Reading

8:09 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Democrats) Share this | Hansard source

I do not want to drag the debate out, but I feel it is appropriate to put a few views on the record in regard to the particular matter I have been querying throughout the debate. I find myself in a strange position. I am not sure I like conscience votes so much at the moment, actually. But, seriously speaking, I still think they are good in principle and we should have more of them.

The issue I just raised by way of a question to Senator Patterson goes wider than the legislation before the Committee of the Whole. On a personal level, I do not have a problem with what this legislation seeks to do. I know many people do have problems with the legislation and I respect the reasoning that some of them have expressed for that. The perception that is at risk of being adopted along with this legislation is that some embryos have less value than others. I do not think there is much doubt, particularly at this stage of scientific knowledge, that embryos created through SCNT are different in some way from sperm-egg embryos. It is not surprising that people perceive them differently for that reason. I am in a strange position. Most of the people who have been opposing this legislation have been doing so because they do not like embryos being used at all, but I am someone who can accept embryos being used. Indeed, the counterintuitive result of my position would be that it would be better if sperm-egg embryos were able to be created specifically for research as well so there was not potential for a different value to be attached to different classes of embryos.

I continually have in my mind the view that all people are created equal, even though I realise that embryos are created in different ways. But if they are both perceived to be embryos then the perception that they may have different worth is a perception that I think could have significant problems if applied in different contexts. I do not think it is a problem if applied within the context of this legislation, but if it is applied in other contexts I think it is a problem, potentially. That is why the principle that all people are created equal is one that most, if not all, of us adhere to.

Senator Patterson gave some indication in her answer before about why this approach was taken in the legislation. I appreciate that the legislation attempts to be a faithful reproduction of the Lockhart committee’s report. And, again, I would like to congratulate the committee on their work, even though I am not convinced they got it right in regard to this particular point that I am pursuing.

My understanding is that the situation is different in the UK, that sperm-egg embryos can be created specifically for the purposes of research. That is a position that some would see as being even further from what they would see as desirable. But I also know—and I think Senator Patterson alluded to this—that there was a debate about whether entities created through SCNT could be determined to be embryos. In different contexts, in different countries, people have argued that they should not be considered embryos. My understanding is that some of those who would be against this sort of research have taken the view that we should not consider them as embryos. They have done that within the context of debates in their own country. Clearly, we are at a stage where there are different perceptions, and I would suggest we are still working through those perceptions about what the real status is and what the real intrinsic worth is of an entity created through the SCNT process.

As I said in my contribution in the second reading debate, I think there is a much greater risk from people unfairly taking away hope of a genuine prospect of cures and better treatments than there is from creating false hope. Therefore, there is a strong onus on people who seek to prevent that hope being explored in regard to a certain area of research to have very good reasons. I think the principle that all people are created equal is a good one, one which should be maintained and one we should continue to apply. I recognise that at a community level there are still different views and, I suggest, there are views that are still forming about what we consider an entity created through SCNT to be.

Again, as I said in my contribution in the second reading debate, I do not think conscience votes are just an opportunity for us to impose our individual, personal philosophical positions on the community or on legislation. If I were keen to do that, I would be looking for every chance I could to legislate to reduce the killing of animals for food consumption and other unnecessary purposes. I do not do that because I recognise that I have a broader responsibility, whether I am engaging in a conscience vote or not.

One of the difficulties the Lockhart committee clearly had was the issue, in its terms of reference, which Senator Patterson referred to, of trying to assess what community standards are in an area that is still developing. It is an area of research that is still complex and challenging. In that context, I note the requirement for a further review by some committee down the track that will have the pleasure of going through what the Lockhart committee has just done. If this legislation were to pass, this particular point that I am drawing attention to now would be one that I hope they give a lot of attention to.


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