Senate debates

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

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

Third Reading

8:36 pm

Photo of Alan EgglestonAlan Eggleston (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I too would like to make a few remarks before the end of this debate. As I said in my speech, I really do not believe that the need for this legislation has been established in this debate. I believe the Senate would be wise to reject this legislation in the interests of senators being given more time to evaluate the current state of stem cell technology in dealing with the known basic problems which stem cell technology and treatments face. There are many hurdles to be overcome before stem cell technology can be used therapeutically, and I referred to them in my speech.

Chiefly, I am concerned, as I said, about the fact that senators have been rushed into expanding the horizons of stem cell technology by committing to somatic cell transfer when major problems, such as how to differentiate a stem cell from a particular cell of a particular organ, have not been overcome yet. Professor Mackay-Sim said to me on the phone last Thursday that differentiation was a very difficult problem to solve. People seem to imagine that, with stem cell therapy, it is simply a matter of putting a stem cell in an organ and tissues of that organ will develop—but that is not the case. That is a very fundamental hurdle which has to be crossed.

There is also the question of limiting the growth of stem cell implants, which in effect become tissue cultures in a person’s body. As we all know, all organs have a size and there is a natural mechanism at play which limits the size of various organs. A stem cell tissue culture would not be subject to those sorts of natural limitations. Just as cancer cells overgrow, so very probably would stem cell cultures overgrow within the body—and that could be quite catastrophic for patients.

Then, of course, we have the most important question of tumour formation. It was pointed out to us during the course of the debate that embryonic stem cells have a 25 per cent chance of turning into a very unpleasant kind of tumour called a teratoma. According to Professor Mackay-Sim, whom I spoke to last Thursday, adult stem cells have a tumour problem as well. I do not see that somatic cell transfer will add to finding answers to those basic problems—answers which must be found if stem cell therapies are ever going to be developed.

As I said in my speech, I find it hard to see any justification for this legislation. I must say that, in my view, the only real beneficiaries of this legislation are those in the biotechnology industry. I can understand the desire of people in the community to see cures developed for various illnesses, but I do not believe that that legitimate desire is served by rushing into legislation such as this. Scientific research is a long, slow process which requires much patience to produce results. It seems to me that this legislation has been conceived in haste, and that is never a good practice in medical research.

The Senate may imagine that it is facilitating a more rapid development of therapy through the use of stem cells, but I doubt very much whether that is the case. I would urge my colleagues to not pass this bill and to let a little time elapse so that they can fully evaluate the state of stem cell research and see what directions this country should go in the future and what regulation should apply to provide the best benefits to the community.


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