Tuesday, 7 November 2006
Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006
I would like to make some comments, particularly in light of the passage of Senator Bartlett’s amendment, because I think it really puts more into focus an issue that was raised in the inquiry and that has been raised in quite a number of the submissions—that is, the scarcity of eggs. These provisions remain in the bill, and one of the concerns that I have—and which was raised by Women’s Forum Australia, GenEthics and, in particular, FINRAGE, which really did focus on it—is the number of eggs that will be required. We can see from overseas that it is impossible—the scarcity of eggs was an issue that was very much focused on. If this legislation is passed, it will create a demand.
I refer senators to page 176 of the report, which canvassed alternatives for getting eggs, particularly since we have now removed those provisions. Clause 23A of the bill expressly proposes the use of precursor cells from a human embryo or a human foetus—clearly, the use of eggs from cadavers. Whilst people do donate organs, there are ethical issues that this raises, and I do not think that this bill carefully canvasses those concerns and, in particular, the ethical and legal issues associated with that. Those were issues that were raised by witnesses at the inquiry and which have been raised in submissions. And, for me, they remain important issues. They remain in this bill and there remain very big question marks around them in relation to support for this bill.
In my earlier speech, I referred to a study ‘Proposed regulation in Victoria of the use of donated foetal ovarian tissue for assisted conception or my mother was an aborted foetus’. It raises very difficult issues. In South Korea, researchers have used ovarian tissue from human cadavers to produce live births and ovarian tissue grafting to create animals. The study states that it was traditionally thought that when a baby girl is born she is already endowed with a quota of approximately two million oocytes. The question becomes: should these be used for donation? There are social, ethical and legal issues that I do not think that we have covered. What is the status of the foetus and what is the protection at law that it deserves? Whilst abortion is legal in Australia, there are issues associated with that, such as the possible oppression and exploitation of women and the effect on children born of this reproductive technology.
Those are the issues that I think still remain in the bill. This bill is not a good one, and for those of us who oppose it, they are just some concerns. There are so many other concerns and, as I asked when I spoke earlier: are we ready to cross the boundary? There are certain scientific and ethical boundaries that should not be crossed. Once they are crossed, you cannot return. The questions I posed in my earlier speech were: what has changed since 2002? Do we believe that our constituents and the Australian public are ready to take that quantum leap? As so many speakers who have spoken against this bill have said, to take the quantum leap and to pass this legislation is to in effect create human embryos for the purpose of research and for the purpose of their destruction.
In conclusion, there are two basic arguments in opposition to this bill. The first is the utilitarian argument, which goes to concerns that have been raised about cancer and women’s issues, whether adult stem cell technology is offering genuine cures and what the commercial driver for change is, which has really been assisted reproductive technology and not medical cures. There are also, of course, the ethical issues. This debate has raised scientific, medical and ethical issues, and those ethical issues—the arguments about the slippery slope, the sanctity of life and, most importantly, the evidentiary threshold for change, which I do not believe has been met—seriously need to be considered as we make this decision.