Senate debates

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

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

Second Reading

Debate resumed from 6 November, on motion by Senator Patterson:

That this bill be now read a second time.

9:31 am

Photo of Chris EllisonChris Ellison (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice and Customs) Share this | | Hansard source

As I mentioned last night when I began my remarks on the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006, there are of course differing scientific opinions in relation to this issue. But there are also other issues of real concern, such as the sourcing of human eggs for cloning purposes. This was canvassed by the Senate Community Affairs Committee, and I refer to the evidence of Katrina George, Director of the Women’s Forum, an independent think tank on public policy on women’s issues. Katrina George’s evidence was as follows:

What we can see from overseas is that it is impossible to obtain near sufficient supplies of ova without offering women some sort of commercial incentive ... If cloning is opened up in this country, it then creates a demand for ova and, as I said, overseas experience would suggest that that can only be satisfied by paying women to undertake these risks.

Ms George went on to outline the concerns of the Women’s Forum about the health implications for women in relation to the harvesting of eggs and the practice of hyperstimulation of the ovary in order to obtain a sufficient quantity of eggs. This is an aspect which is just one of many to be considered in the debate on this bill.

Another aspect concerns the Lockhart report recommendation which allows somatic cell nuclear transfer using animal eggs. The Southern Cross Bioethics Institute submitted to the Senate committee that creating hybrid embryos not only is an ethical Pandora’s box in its own right but also rests on a naive assumption that inserting the human nuclear genome into an extraordinarily complex structure with very different cytoplasmic machinery to that in the human egg will produce a comparable result. To quote the institute directly:

We can only guess at the possible result of transferring human nuclei and animal oocytes.

Of course, this begs the question of how stem cell lines derived from human and animal DNA may affect subsequent therapies for human beings. We have seen in the past the use of animal parts in relation to operations involving the treatment of human beings, but this is something quite different. Unfortunately, there is no strong scientific evidence to support such a proposal as this, which is a radical departure from previous research methods. This is a matter of great concern and raises not only scientific questions but also ethical ones.

Another concern I have with the bill concerns me in my role as Minister for Justice and Customs, and that is the recommendation from Lockhart which was to do away with the export regulation of embryos. In the review, the recommendation was made because the current export approval process was considered too cumbersome and stressful for users. I would ask senators to cast their minds back to how this came about. Four years ago when we debated this issue there was concern that embryos could be exported from Australia for any purpose at all, such as cloning. We have seen overseas some clinics which have engaged in this, or attempted to, and of course once an embryo leaves Australia we lose jurisdictional control and we do not have the safeguards which people would point to that exist in Australia. This bill has a provision which would do away with that regulation of the export of embryos.

Can I say at the outset that I take issue with the Lockhart report over its comment that this process is too cumbersome and stressful. In my time as minister which has covered the period in question, of the 55 applications that I have received, 54 have been approved and one has been withdrawn. I have received no complaint from anyone—no complaint at all in relation to the process or to delay. In fact, 51 of the 54 applications which were approved were done so within 14 days of my receiving them from the department. I would suggest that the time frame is not as cumbersome as was made out. The former Mr Justice Lockhart met with me on 8 December 2005, a short period before the report was published, and to his credit he published my view in the report. But I do think that the committee placed too much emphasis on just a couple of submissions which maintained that the process was too cumbersome and stressful. As I say, I have not received any complaints and I believe firmly that we have processed the applications in appropriate time for the purposes for which the applications were made. I also remind senators that the regulation in place states that:

Subject to this regulation, the Minister may grant a permission if the Minister is satisfied that:

the embryo will, if necessary to achieve the pregnancy of a relevant woman under a relevant agreement, be implanted in the relevant woman; and


the agreement was made, or negotiations for agreement were entered into, before 27 March 2003; or

(ii) the agreement does not provide for any valuable consideration; and

(c) if the prospective mother has died at the time of the application—the application and the agreement are consistent with the advance directive mentioned in subparagraph 6(d)(ii).

That provided for some surrogacy arrangements that were based on commercial grounds which were in place at the time. It was as a result of a negotiation between a number of senators who were involved in this debate, and I believe it has worked well. The provision in relation to the permission that is sought requires that the person who is seeking to export the embryo provide a statement to that effect, a statement from the ART centre storing the embryos in Australia and the overseas ART centre that will be facilitating the pregnancy. I would suggest that that is not a cumbersome process and it is one which gives assurance to the wider community that an embryo is being exported from Australia for the purposes of IVF or to achieve a pregnancy by way of some agreement for surrogacy.

The current export regulation assists the individual who is travelling overseas to achieve a pregnancy, but it also restricts the use of the embryo, which could be for any purpose whatsoever overseas. That was a debate we had four years ago, and I believe that in the circumstances that export restraint should be maintained. It does not interfere with the desires of those who travel overseas and want to achieve a pregnancy but, at the same time, it provides us with an assurance that we cannot have the export of embryos willy-nilly for any purpose overseas, which could well include human cloning. I draw that to the attention of senators. I believe it is another flaw in this bill but, as I said at the outset, there are other considerations. Recently I read these remarks:

Human beings are increasingly considered a simple product of nature and thus susceptible to being treated as just another animal, which leads to a weakening of moral and ethical norms.

I think at the end of the day we must keep that maxim in mind when we deal with these issues. No-one in this chamber is against scientific research for the betterment of human beings and no-one in this chamber, I believe, would unreasonably stand in the way of such research. But we do have to consider the merits, scientifically, of any proposal such as this, as serious as it is, and also the ethical aspects which apply to that. After all, what we are doing is looking at changes to the law in a short space of time where just four years ago we drew a line in the sand and said that therapeutic cloning was not to happen. Four years later we find a proposal that would reverse this statement. That is why it is such a weighty consideration for all of us in this debate today. I am opposed to this bill for more than one reason. As I have outlined, there are scientific and ethical issues involved. There are aspects which involve doing away with any constraint over the export of embryos overseas and there is also the issue of women’s health in relation to the harvesting of eggs. I am opposed to this bill for all those reasons.

9:41 am

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Corporate Governance and Responsibility) Share this | | Hansard source

In rising to speak to the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006 can I at the outset thank those constituents, both supportive and opposed to this legislation, who have communicated with me, and proponents and opponents of the bill who have taken the time to present their case to me both in person and in writing. I have found their contributions extremely useful in coming to my views about the legislation. I also place on record my thanks to Senators Stott Despoja and Webber who obviously have contributed substantially to this debate through the development of the Stott Despoja and Webber legislation. I thank Senator Patterson for the work she has done in bringing this bill forward. I also thank all members of the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs who, in the week the parliament was not sitting, spent a significant amount of time grappling with the somewhat complex ethical and scientific issues associated with the legislation.

It seems to me that the community does have the right—in fact the imperative—to set the ethical boundaries on scientific research. A primary way in which that is done, but not exclusively, is obviously through the parliament. I do not believe that scientists should determine the ethical boundaries of research. That is in great part the responsibility of this parliament. It seems to me that the key issue in this legislation is as formulated by Father Frank Brennan in one of his papers. I agree with his formulation of this but I flag that my conclusion about the ethical issues differs from his. Father Brennan pointed out that the key issue is this:

The moral quandary confronting law makers has been determining what respect, if any, is due to the entity which is created by means of the successful transfer of the nucleus of a human adult cell into an enucleated human or animal egg.

That seems to me to be the primary issue that the Senate needs to consider when looking at this legislation. There have been a substantial number of arguments placed before the chamber by those opposing the bill as to the merits or otherwise of scientific research. There have been suggestions about the prospects of success arising out of the research that is proposed or encompassed by this legislation. There have been criticisms of any prospects of cures or other medical advances being able to be arrived at as a result of this research and there has been discussion about the relative benefits of utilising adult stem cells.

It seems to me that it is perhaps lacking in a little intellectual rigour for senators to try and second-guess where science may lead us as a basis for determining their position on this bill. It seems to me that our job, as I have outlined, is to consider whether the research that is permitted in the proposed legislation transgresses or is within ethical boundaries that we consider to be appropriate in today’s society. It is impossible for anyone, even scientists with far more expertise in this area than any senator—and certainly it is impossible for law-makers—to make some determination as to the likely future success of any research. We are not able to divine that, and it seems to me that to make an argument about whether the scientific research may or may not be questionable is not the key issue before the chamber. It seems to me that the issue of primary relevance is to consider what sorts of rights should accrue to an SCNT embryo and whether or not the research that is permitted within the fairly limited strictures of this legislation is considered ethical in today’s society.

I am concerned that some of this debate has gone to the issue of whether or not any research would be successful. I make the point that there are a great many examples through the history of science—in medical science particularly, but in all endeavours of science—where the ultimate use of research findings could never have been divined at the outset. An example is a recent quote from Professor Frazer, who would be well known to all senators, who made the point that if a proposed moratorium on genetic engineering had gone ahead in the 1970s he would never have developed a cervical cancer vaccine with the potential to prevent half a million deaths a year. Penicillin is another example of that in the history of medical scientific research.

Professor Frazer’s point is a good one. There were people some 30-odd years ago who argued that genetic engineering or that kind of genetic research was inappropriate. Obviously they are entitled to their view, but the point he makes is that at that point we could never have determined or divined that some 30 years later that research would ground the finding of a vaccine which will, I hope—and according to scientists and medical practitioners—be of great benefit to women around the world in the prevention of cervical cancer.

I want to emphasise, when we are talking about the embryos that seem to be the subject of the debate, that we are not talking about an egg fertilised by human sperm. We are not talking about a human ovum fertilised by human sperm. I want to refer to page 16 of the community affairs committee report, where committee members make this point:

Another source of human embryonic stem cells could be Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT). This is a process commonly called cloning. It is important to remember that the word cloning is used to describe replication of single cells, genetic material as well as whole beings. It is vital that the different outcomes are clearly acknowledged.

The committee goes on to explain the SCNT process:

... where the nucleus of an egg is removed and replaced by one taken from a donor adult cell eg. a skin cell. This is then stimulated and it behaves like an embryo ...

The committee then goes on to clarify that the SCNT technique cannot be used under the strictures in the legislation to clone a whole human being for four reasons: that there has been and shall remain, under the legislation, a strict prohibition on SCNT embryos being implanted in the body of an animal or a human; that such cells are prohibited from developing beyond 14 days; that there are substantial penalties in the legislation for transgression of these safeguards; and, finally, that scientists believe that the current indications of such embryos developing are extremely remote.

I want to comment on one point that is made by the committee, and that is that the word ‘cloning’ is used to describe both the replication of a whole human being or a whole being as well as the replication of single cells and genetic material. It seems to me that one of the ways in which this debate has been conducted is to conflate, in a sense, those two concepts. The replication of a whole human being is something that I do not believe anybody would contemplate as being ethical and appropriate. Unfortunately some of the conflation of these two concepts has, I fear, been utilised to try and gain the response that I think all people would have to the prospect of cloning human beings, when what we are talking about is cloning a single cell or the replication of single cells, not a whole human being.

I also make the point that the sorts of safeguards contained in the legislation, which are described in the paragraph of the committee report that I have just referred to, really do demonstrate that we are not talking about human cloning in terms of replicating a whole human being. There are substantial safeguards in the legislation and we ought not to conflate the two concepts or to utilise people’s reasonable fears about the prospects of human cloning to steer this debate towards the end that some might wish for.

I have to make this point, which relates to the previous legislation which has had some discussion in the chamber and also to the whole principle of IVF treatment. It seems to me that the ethical dilemmas associated with scientific research on human embryos are greater when considering embryos which are created by the fertilisation of a human egg by sperm. This is the same process by which all human life is created and such embryos have significantly greater potential to develop into human beings, so I am somewhat mystified by the attention or strong reaction that this legislation has engendered, given that the ethical dilemmas associated with the 2002 legislation were arguably greater. I would have thought that if we are concerned with issues about potential human life then the step the parliament took in 2002, when it permitted a human embryo created by the process by which all human life is created—that is, by human egg fertilised by sperm—to be used for research, was arguably far greater than what the Senate is considering today.

The opponents of this legislation seem to take the view that human embryos created by sperm and ova can be created and used for research under the previous legislation or in the context of IVF treatment but that entities created through somatic cell nuclear transfer cannot. I do not understand the ethical distinction that is being drawn by those who oppose the bill that suggests that we can create an embryo for IVF purposes through what is probably the way in which most people would conceptualise the commencement of human life and then utilise that for research but an entity that is created through somatic cell nuclear transfer cannot be so utilised. I have to say that I consider this to be an entirely illogical position.

I note that Senator Minchin previously in this debate described the proposition before the chamber as being repugnant and objectionable. I wonder whether a similar view would be taken about IVF treatment. The fact is that we create embryos through IVF knowing that a substantial proportion of those will be destroyed or will succumb, to use the term, and of course those are potential lives. As I understand the argument by some of the opponents of this bill, they argue that there is an ethical distinction between that and what is being proposed in this legislation—first, that the purpose for which embryos are created is different and, second, that the embryos succumb but are not destroyed.

Can I deal with the second issue. It seems to me that it is a questionable ethical step to suggest that, because something succumbs as opposed to being actively destroyed, that somehow removes the ethical dilemma or obviates any ethical issues associated with it. In fact, some might argue that, if you have the power to change something and you choose not to act, that is a very small step in ethical terms from actually choosing to act to destroy—if you stand by and permit something to be destroyed when you have the power to prevent that, how far a step is that from actually actively destroying it?

The first point that I raised as one of the defences or arguments as to why the regime in the bill that is proposed is somehow worse than what has been previously put before the chamber is a purposive argument—that is, that the purpose for which embryos are created creates the ethical distinction. That is a view that has been put to me by a number of people. I question this. Is the purpose of creation a sufficient ethical imprimatur to justify the creation of a number of embryos through fertilisation knowing that a substantial proportion of those are guaranteed to succumb or to have their existence ended? Similarly, is the asserted purpose of creation sufficient to justify the use of excess IVF embryos for research? It seems to me that is not a sound way of analysing the consideration associated with both IVF treatment and the research permitted on IVF embryos.

It seems to me that a better ethical framework for explaining our continued support for IVF, and I do support it, and for the research permitted on excess IVF embryos that we previously have endorsed is that we as a community seek to weigh the various ethical considerations and potential benefits. The community by and large supports IVF, which does involve the destruction or succumbing of embryos, because the benefit is seen to outweigh the negative consequences. In truth, what we do is place the potential benefit to couples or people with infertility problems and their desire to have a child above the rights of excess embryos which are produced. I am able to accept that ethical framework. Similarly, we also permit excess IVF embryos to be used for research, and we do so, frankly, not just because of the purpose for which they were created but also because of their potential benefit for research. I find it extremely difficult to accept that the ethical dilemmas posed by an entity created by somatic cell nuclear transfer, which has less potential for continued existence, mean it should be accorded greater rights by this parliament than an excess embryo created by IVF.

My suggestion to the chamber is that the more difficult ethical dilemma was considered by this parliament a number of years ago, and perhaps a more accurate ethical framework is that we weigh the benefits and consider what are the appropriate rights or respect that are due to embryos, whether SCNT or created by the normal process of fertilisation, against the potential benefits both of IVF treatment and also of research. My view is that the ethical considerations around permitting research using a product of somatic cell nuclear transfer do not seem to be sufficient to require prohibition of this research.

I want to emphasise the safeguards which are in the legislation, some of which I have referred to and which have been referred to by previous speakers and in the community affairs report. It seems to me that those senators who are talking about potential nightmare scenarios or the misuse of the research are really doing so because they oppose the bill, and that is fair enough; that is their prerogative. But perhaps they should be moving amendments to the legislation if their concerns are that the safeguards are insufficient. Instead, the potential misuse of the research is being used as an argument to justify opposition to the bill. I would ask those senators who consider that this research might not be utilised or undertaken appropriately, if that is the basis of their concerns, to consider whether or not the safeguards in it are sufficient and, if they do not consider that to be the case, to move amendments to increase those safeguards rather than simply opposing the legislation.

Those who support this legislation have been accused of peddling hope or of manipulating people’s hopes. It seems to me that there are some on the other side who have peddled fear. I personally try always to look to hope rather than fear as a basis for behaviour and action. Whilst I do not know where this research may lead, I do not think the potential benefits which we cannot see now should be cut off because we have concerns about a somatic cell nuclear transfer entity. I again make the point that I made before, in relation to Professor Frazer, that we do not know where science will lead. That does not mean we allow carte blanche, but the circumstances do require us to consider the ethical boundaries. In my view, this legislation is within the boundaries that the parliament should support. So, in the light of the potential benefits and the safeguards in the legislation, I intend to support this bill.

10:00 am

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I also intend to support the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006. I came to that decision last night. I slept on it, and I woke up feeling the same way this morning. It is not an easy decision, but it is an obligation upon us in this Senate—and it will be in the other place—to wrestle with difficult decisions like this and come to such conclusions. I want to thank all those people who have helped me make that decision, both in this place—because I have listened to the debate carefully—and outside, including Senator Patterson and, indeed, Senator Stott Despoja, Senator Webber and my colleague Senator Nettle, who has always been available to explain the almost inexplicable intricacies of the legislation.

Senator Wong just said that in many ways the decision with the last legislation two years ago was more difficult than this time. I think there is some merit in what she said. Senator Vanstone gave a salient speech last night, at the heart of which was that, in a democracy like ours, it is proper that we make decisions in the parliaments on complex ethical matters as our society progresses—that we can no longer seek ecclesiastical judgement on such matters. This is an age of enormous growth of understanding of everything from ourselves to the whole of the cosmos.

It is on those wider matters that I want to deliberate for a little while in a moment. But let me say at the outset: there are strong safeguards built into this legislation to stop it being used maliciously or against what our society in general would find acceptable. Senator Nettle, on behalf of the Greens, has brought forward three amendments which I hope the Senate may adopt, because one of the concerns I share with her is about biotechnical companies looking at the profit line rather than at the human advantages that we can get from breakthroughs in medicine which will help people who have drawn the short straw, so to speak, in our society, who are suffering illnesses which may be alleviated further down the line, from studies made available through this sort of legislation. We need to make sure that profit never becomes the motive for such advancement in science. The amendments the Greens have brought forward are aimed very squarely at ensuring that it is the public good, not the private purse, that is at all times the motivator in such experimentation.

I am satisfied that, in the whole complexity of this matter, the public good is better served by passing the legislation than by opposing it and therefore inhibiting the potential discoveries which may come out of it. Last time around, I felt convinced that the adult stem cell option was one that covered the field generally. But, in matters such as specific stem cell investigation into specific organs from the human body, which may have the potential for better study using the embryonic stem cell option that is being canvassed by this legislation, there is also the potential through this option for studying diseased cells from specific illnesses which trouble our society, which may not be available through the adult stem cell option. So those things have been important in making this decision.

I have spoken at great length over the years with my colleague Christine Milne. We talk a lot about the way human society is evolving. I would recommend to those who want to see a contrary point of view from somebody who I think does not think very differently from me—she will allow me to say that—that they read her speech. There are, of course, great ethical issues involved here, but I think we should look to those not by opposing this legislation but by building in greater safeguards. One of those ought to be a government look at how we can have an overview of where science is taking us in this country and around the world. It would be a good thing if we had a national technological watch from an ethical point of view on the combination of sciences which some of the greatest thinkers on the planet warn us may come together to change human existence on this planet irrevocably.

This morning I had pointed out to me an article from Arena magazine by a man who has spent a lot of time thinking in this field, Guy Rundle. I will quote from his contemporary article:

Yet the limited degree to which the public has taken these arguments on board—

these are arguments under the title of ‘The crisis in embryo’—

largely in the wake of animal cloning—should be cause for guarded optimism, if one remains cognizant of the long-time frame within which such battles may be fought. As human life becomes increasingly abstracted, commodified, manipulable and dehumanised, a wider sense of foreboding spreads. It remains a minority opinion, but it is a level of awareness far beyond any that could have been hoped for at the beginning of IVF or multiple organ transplants—the first practices to make visible the cultural and moral dilemmas that occur when ‘life’ can be isolated from ‘being’.

I share that sense of dread; yet we must not inhibit ourselves from the potential for medical breakthroughs.

I have had medical training; I was a young doctor when I went to Tasmania many years ago, and I loved that profession. Of course we all learnt about Edward Jenner. He found the antidote to the scourge of smallpox, which killed millions of people around the planet in an awesomely bad death and left many others maimed and disfigured and their lives ruined. He noted, back in 1796, that after an epidemic of smallpox the people involved in the dairy industry had escaped unscathed. And when Sarah Nelmes came to see him on 14 May 1796 with pustules on her hands, he realised she had cowpox and he took some of that material. With the permission of another man in the village, Mr Phipps, he put that into some cuts he made on the arm of young James Phipps, son of Mr Phipps. A bit later he then gave the same son the smallpox virus, and nothing happened.

As a result of that process 220 years ago, literally hundreds of millions of people’s lives have been saved. If we had that debate in the Senate today, about taking cowpox virus from a milkmaid and injecting it into the son of somebody next door, we would not allow it to proceed. That is part of the dilemma. These days we in parliaments have to make decisions and laws that add restrictions but allow some things to proceed.

There has been very great alarm and concern about the misuse of this science. This is not the last time we will debate this issue. It is going to become part of the business of parliaments around the world to be discussing the use of a range of technologies, including nanotechnology, robots, artificial intelligence and, indeed, genetics, right through the rest of human existence. If we do not keep a sobriety about it—if we do not keep a reasonable lid on what potentially could become out-of-control science—then humanity as we know it will not go on into the future.

I am not just speculating wildly there. Stephen Hawking, one of the finer brains on the planet and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, recently put up on his website the question, ‘How do you think humanity will get through the next hundred years?’ And he got 35,000 bloggers responding.

Photo of Kay PattersonKay Patterson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I know how he feels.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, I am sure you do. Then he put up his opinion that he himself did not know. We have taken the genie out of the bottle and we are experimenting with powers of nature inherent in the universe and changing them. He called it a sick joke, but I do not think it is at all. One of the questions we have to ask ourselves in doing the rounds in science, he says, is, ‘Why haven’t we been visited by aliens?’ And the answer to that is: because every time a civilisation gets to our stage it cannot contain its abuse of the powers available to it and it implodes—a very sobering thought. Evolution has a habit of running in parallel.

The question for us human beings on this planet, in this age of extraordinary advance and technological powers, is: can we not go the route of self-destruction but instead go the direction of the enhancement of life and the ability of our own intelligence to go on to explore the universe without unleashing powers which will destroy our biological ability to survive and therefore, ipso facto, the ability of that intelligence to proceed down the thousands of years to come? We hope it will continue to be able to grapple with the magical questions of why are we here, how did we come to get here, who are we and what does the future hold for us.

Above all, in answering all of those questions we must take time, we must be prudent and we must be cautious. The question really facing this chamber at the moment is: is it incautious to be taking this next small step in allowing cell experimentation which may improve the collective lot of humanity? And on balance I think we are.

Nevertheless, let me acquaint the chamber with the thinking of Mr Bill Joy, who was Chair of President Clinton’s United States Information Technology Task Force, and who six years ago wrote in that salient essay, ‘Does the Future Really Need Us?’ a remarkable exposition of the dangers we face:

If our own extinction is a likely or even possible outcome of our technological development shouldn’t we proceed with great caution? Knowing is not a rationale for not acting.

The nuclear, biological and chemical technologies used in 20th century weapons of mass destruction were and are largely military, developed in government laboratories. In sharp contrast the 21st century Genetic, Nano,-Robotic technologies have clear commercial uses and are being developed almost exclusively by commercial enterprises. In this age of triumphant commercialism, technology—with science as its handmaiden—is delivering a series of almost magical inventions that are the most phenomenonally lucrative ever seen. We are pursuing the promise of these new technologies within the now unchallenged system of global capitalism and its manifold financial incentives and competitive pressures.

This is the first moment in the history of our planet when any species, by its own voluntary actions, has become a danger to itself—as well as to a vast number of others.

Senator Vanstone last night simplified the answer to that question—maybe oversimplified it—but I think it is at the heart of the question here. Are we doing good or are we doing harm? In the end I have come to the conclusion that this legislation will do more good than harm. But I commit myself, along with all fellow senators, to being a watchdog on the future. For those who might think that scientists are the best people to make ethical judgements, I disagree. The very fact that we have a $1 trillion armaments industry on this planet flowing out of science, with everything from cluster bombs through to hydrogen bombs, shows that that is not so. Who is the moral arbiter in the 21st century? It has to be the democratically elected makers of the law listening to the society which, from time to time, puts them in and takes them away.

I was in the United States two weeks ago, and I was implored by an 85-year-old lifelong Republican man to support stem cell research. I came home and on Saturday night the daughter of an 84-year-old Tasmanian woman, an ardent Greens voter, also implored me to support stem cell research. I have had many letters with absolutely the contrary point of view. But in the end I have come to a conclusion out of all these many strands that it is better this legislation passes than we obstruct it. However, I ask all senators to look very carefully at Senator Nettle’s amendments. I think they make this legislation better. I think they curb the commercial zeal which may drive any scientific experimentation and therefore concentrate science more on what will benefit humanity. We are in an age where we have failed many moral dilemmas. The war in Iraq is a clear example of that, as is the destruction of forests around the planet and the failure to deal with climate change, although we have known about climate change for decades. It was first speculated on by Arrhenius in 1895, and here we are in 2006 with a realisation that the planet is in real trouble because we did not listen to the scientists.

When it comes to experimentation with the very basic human fabric, ourselves, and with the very basis of life, the cells that make up all life on this planet, we have to be extraordinarily cautious. This legislation does have the ability to improve the general wellbeing and happiness of people not just in our own country but around the world. I will be watching carefully as further legislation comes into the Senate or, indeed, if it does not come in. We will be introducing legislation if we see this or other technologies being abused in our laboratories by corporations and people who have lost the ultimate value in medical experimentation, which is a commitment, as Senator Vanstone said, to the good, to the general feeling that this will improve our delight and happiness in the experience of life on the planet while we have it.

10:20 am

Photo of Jan McLucasJan McLucas (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Aged Care, Disabilities and Carers) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to debate this important bill, the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006, which is before the chamber today. Discussion about the regulation of research on embryonic stem cells is not new. Australia, along with the rest of the world, has had to have this discussion since the mid- to late 1990s as a result of developing understanding of the science and the potential benefits of the use of embryonic stem cells and now, of somatic cell nuclear transfer, SCNT. In 1998 the then health minister requested the Australian Health Ethics Committee, AHEC, to undertake analysis of the scientific, ethical and regulatory considerations of cloning techniques. Following receipt of this report, the minister then requested the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to review the AHEC report. The Andrews report was tabled in 2001.

In 2002 the parliament passed two bills which responded to the earlier reports. As a part of that process the community affairs committee conducted an inquiry into the bills. There has been consistency in the recommendations of each of these committees of inquiry. The consistent themes are that cloning for the purposes of human reproduction should be banned; that in no circumstances should payment for human ova, sperm or embryos be allowed; that regulation on the use of human eggs and embryos is required, and that consistency of regulation across the states and territories is essential. It is my view that these principles should remain the same into the future. They reflect community opinion and they reflect scientific opinion.

So what, then, has changed? Why do we have to return to this issue—an issue that is difficult for some of us in this place and for the community? We return to it because the potential benefit for people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, or life threatening diseases is growing with greater knowledge and understanding.

The Andrews report tabled in 2001 acknowledged that potential, recommending, among other things, that there should be a moratorium on the creation of embryos by means of somatic cell nuclear transfer techniques for three years, at which point the issue should be re-examined; and, further, that the creation of embryos by means of somatic cell nuclear transfer should not be permitted at that stage, although this need not necessarily form part of the legislative ban on the deliberate creation of embryos. It did not rule out somatic cell nuclear transfer at all but rather recommended analysis of its further potential.

The legislation passed in 2002 mandated a review after three years and, as we know, the government commissioned John Lockhart, an eminent jurist, to conduct that review. His report is an important contribution to the public discussion and I thank his committee for their work. Following a long, detailed and public inquiry his committee made 54 recommendations, and the legislation that we are dealing with today results from some of those recommendations. It is not true to suggest that the legislation is a result of growing pressure from the science community to continually attempt to gain greater access to research practice.

One contributor to this debate suggested that the legislation was somewhat diminished because it was not being brought forward by the government but rather as a private senator’s bill. I suggest to him that he knows as well as I do that the fact that it is a private senator’s bill is more about politics and less about the substance of this legislation. I commend Senator Patterson for bringing this legislation forward. Further, I commend Senator Stott Despoja and Senator Webber for the work that they have undertaken in the exposure draft of their bill. I also thank members of the Lockhart committee, the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs and those community members who have contributed to the processes that informed the various reports. I also thank my constituents who have taken the time to make their views known to me.

The proposed legislation provides the framework and the safeguards that our community requires to ensure that research using human embryos is conducted ethically and safely, and that is why I will be supporting the bill. In an open letter to the Senate, Professor Ian Frazer, the Australian of the Year this year, urges our support for the bill. He identifies that in the 1970s the debate about genetic engineering—the precursor to his groundbreaking work in the development of a cervical cancer vaccine—was difficult because the underlying science was complex and easily open to misrepresentation. He makes the point that we are in a similar situation today and that various attempts have been made to discredit the science behind embryonic stem cell research and SCNT. My concern also goes to the attempts that have been made to discredit individuals who support legislation in these areas, and I urge calm and careful language from all sides in the course of the discussion and debate.

One of the arguments being offered by those in opposition to the legislation is that false hope is held out to those who suffer from conditions that may—I repeat ‘may’—in the future be alleviated by therapies that could be derived from the research that is facilitated with the passage of this legislation. This argument was also used in the 2002 debate. As was the case then, many people now with chronic conditions and disabilities are offended that others would deem what they are allowed to feel.

Recently, MS Australia held an information evening in the parliament, where a young woman by the name of Sarah Ross-Smith, who has multiple sclerosis, spoke. She was not speaking about the potential of cures derived from SCNT or embryonic stem cells but, rather, more broadly about the goal of MS Australia to find a cure. She spoke eloquently and passionately about the fact that, for her, the hope that a cure will be found is her motivation to keep going in the face of what she knows will be a difficult journey for her and her family. Hope is her incentive to continue to go to work, to manage her treatment and to speak on behalf of MS Australia to encourage the much-needed funds to conduct the research that is required.

It was that story and her expression of hope that made me somewhat angry at the assertion by people that it is wrong to even contemplate that hope is an essential part of dealing with a chronic condition. Is it false hope? The science is a growing area of research. Alzheimer’s Australia says:

While in the short term, stem cell based therapies may be more likely to benefit other neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s Australia believes that stem cell research is a valuable research area that holds great promise to yield insight into many neurological disorders.

Scientists involved in the research are most explicit. Treatments, let alone cures, are decades away. It is simply dishonest to claim, as people have in this chamber and elsewhere, that the scientists are peddling false hope or asserting that cures are around the corner. Can I suggest to those who do: read the evidence and point to any scientist or research organisation who has made that assertion.

All medical research takes time—considerable time. It is simply the nature of research that involves humans that it will take time. It took over a decade for Nobel Prize winners Barry Marshall and Robin Warren’s work on stomach ulcers to be broadly accepted, and it has taken 20 years for Ian Frazer’s work on the human papilloma virus vaccine to emerge. But the point is that they are typical stories.

I ask: is false hope being ‘peddled’? It is a term that is often used. Some contributors to this debate have alleged that it is the scientific community which is promoting hope in order to maintain their position. This is disingenuous and reflects more on those making the allegations than the scientists that they are trying to impugn. Scientists are realistic in their assessments of the potential time line in which therapies and cures can be achieved. CAMRA, the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research Australia, says:

While no-one can claim with certainty what benefits may eventually result from allowing therapeutic cloning in Australia, it is the overwhelming opinion of the scientific and medical community that this research has tremendous potential to better human life ...

The fact is that we do not know the answers to the questions about the potential for therapies or cures. But to deny people the right to have a hope that their condition may be assisted is to take away their right to believe. As I have said, the understanding of the science in this area is growing. We have much to learn and the results to this point are at best promising. It is wrong to say that we should therefore not be undertaking any research because to this point there have not been significant results in terms of therapies.

Much has been said about why there have not been large numbers of applications and approvals since the passage of legislation in 2002. We have to be honest about why. There has been one ART licence granted to tackle an explicit disease and three licences granted which are intended to develop stem cell lines which will be used to tackle a range of diseases. It is misleading to extrapolate from that that, because there have been a small number of licences granted, there is little interest or potential. The research is on the stem cell lines, not on the embryos.

One contributor contended that SCNT is designed to take resources away from other areas of research even though, in his view, it does not work. This is a profound misunderstanding of how science operates. No scientist will deliberately try and drag funding to a dead end. That is the exact opposite to the pathway of how scientific credibility operates, and consequently how the funding streams lie.

It is contended that, as there is apparently a lack of scientific agreement, we should not proceed. This is disputed. Most of the scientific community support regulation of the use of embryonic stem cells and somatic cell nuclear transfer. Of course, there are some who, for largely personal reasons, do not. But, I say again, most do.

A point constantly made by the scientists is that adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells have different properties. We simply do not know which is going to be more appropriate for any disease. Professor Bob Williamson, representing the Academy of Science, stated during the inquiry:

... we are in a situation now where all of the possible approaches—those involving embryonic stem cells, somatic cell nuclear transfer, cord blood stem cells, adult stem cells—should continue in parallel. We believe that these approaches will cross-fertilise each other and help us to develop a more robust scientific answer.

The same point has been made by other scientists and scientific organisations. This was a consistent message from scientists in 2002 and is again now. Adult and embryonic stem cells have different properties and research into one, including through SCNT, can shed important light on the other.

I want to go to the issue of a stem cell bank. In 2002 the Senate agreed to an amendment to the legislation that we were then debating that requested analysis of the potential value of establishing a stem cell bank here in Australia. The Lockhart committee undertook that analysis and recommended that a national stem cell bank be established and that consideration be given to the feasibility of the Australian Stem Cell Centre operating as the bank. I support the legislative elements that are proposed in the Patterson bill that refer to that recommendation—that is, to require the minister to report to the parliament within six months on the most appropriate method to deliver the stem cell bank and also the appropriateness of a register of excess ART embryos. It is not a measure that requires legislation at this point; it can be delivered through regular government processes.

In conclusion, I think that the fundamental question that needs to be answered is this: if research into somatic cell nuclear transfer is allowed to proceed in Australia, can treatments, therapies, cures for motor neurone disease, MS, chronic diabetes et cetera be found? The answer is maybe. But if research into SCNT is not allowed to proceed, can treatments for these debilitating conditions be found? Definitely not in Australia. Research will proceed in other countries in the world, and the reality is that only those who have capacity to access support in those countries—that is, those who are wealthy enough to travel to those countries and pay for the services—will be able to access that assistance. That is not most of us. Australia has an enviable record in the regulation of research. We are recognised as a country that has been cautious and conservative in regulating this area of research, and this legislation fits that description. This legislation will allow for research that is well regulated, that is safe, that is ethical and that will respect the boundaries that our community expects. Public opinion supports the passage of this bill. I urge senators to reflect that opinion.

10:36 am

Photo of Julian McGauranJulian McGauran (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak against the private member’s bill before the Senate entitled Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006. The bill in essence enables stem cell research involving an array of embryo types. The explanatory memorandum says that a person may apply for a licence to use IVF embryos—which is already law—and to ‘create human embryos ... containing genetic material provided by more than 2 persons’.

The misconception of some of the speakers—and understandably so in this somewhat complex scientific issue we are dealing with—is that, because there is no sperm involved, the embryo is not a potential life or real life and cannot become life. I would like to refer to the speech delivered yesterday by my colleague Senator Eggleston, who is a doctor, to explain away that misconception or, if you like, out clause. He said:

... some colleagues seem to place on the fact that sperm are not involved in the creation of a cloned embryo, apparently not understanding that sperm are just a vehicle to transport nuclear material and that they play the same role as the glass pipette ... in making an embryo.

But it gets worse. In the explanatory memorandum it says:

... create human embryos using precursor cells from a human embryo or a human fetus ...

This is black and white. It opens the gate, without doubt, for the use of aborted fetuses, because aborted fetuses are believed to have, if not the same, almost the same potential as embryonic stem cells. The explanatory memorandum then goes on to allow for a licence to:

... create hybrid embryos by the fertilisation of an animal egg by human sperm, and ... create hybrid embryos by introducing the nucleus of a human cell into an animal egg ...

The Senate ought to note that the key words in the explanatory memorandum are ‘create human embryos’.

If you believe life begins at conception, then what choice do you have but to reject this bill? The bedrock for me is that this is a pro-life issue. Even before we get to the issue of the slippery slope of producing a cloned human or the lie of hope that is embedded in the science of such research, this private member’s bill is little different to the two previous conscience votes in which I have been involved in this parliament—that is, the anti-euthanasia bill and the RU486 abortion bill. Both bills dealt with the respect and preservation of human life from beginning to end. The private member’s bill before us today deals with life at its very beginning, yet it is no less precious than at any other time. It is worth noting that the first seven days of human life after conception is the greatest period of growth in the whole human life span. In other words, the human embryo is hurtling towards birth and an independent life in those first seven days.

During this debate over the last few months it has been said by no less than the mover, Senator Patterson, that in a way this is science versus church and that the church has many times been caught out being scientifically foolish over the centuries. Of course, people drag up the old Galileo case. I have yet to see a better example—and that is getting towards a thousand years ago. To answer that claim, I refer to the inquiry of the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs into this legislation and to quote testimony given by Bishop Fisher from the Catholic Church. Given that that is my church, I would like to use this as an example against the critics who believe that this is a church versus science issue. The bishop said:

The Catholic Church is the oldest and largest healthcare provider in the world. Its worldwide network of universities, medical schools, teaching hospitals, research facilities, hospices and nursing homes provides the best that contemporary medical science and nursing art have to offer. The church is a major funder and host for medical research. Many of Australia’s top professionals are proud to be part of Catholic health care and research. So the church is not anti science.

Needless to say, we should not be creating the array of embryo types listed in the bill. However, under these sets of beliefs I have stated, once an embryo is created it all becomes a horror story. That life is created by scientists to carve up and destroy within 14 days has all the pride equal to a Nuremberg rally—a rally of Dr Strangebloods chanting for such weird experiments as the creation of hybrid embryos mixing humans with animals. Ironically, the Nuremberg code titled ‘Directives for human experimentation’ was developed post World War Two and came out of the experience of some of the terrible research done in that era. The declaration has been updated many times since then and clearly lays out a worldwide standard. It states that you may not do destructive research on human beings and you may not use one human being and kill them or harm them in order to gain knowledge or advantage for another human being.

I have found it absolutely striking and bewildering that the delusion our scientists have placed themselves under is that the world seems to await Australia’s great breakthrough in this area of embryonic stem cell research, that if Australia does not take up the research then the world will suffer and that all they require is the time and the money—of course, the big money—yet the truth is that embryo experimentation is being undertaken in many other parts of the world already. Furthermore, there has not been so much as a skerrick of a breakthrough to match the false hope given out—and, on the strength of it, there never will be. Besides, if there is a slim chance of a breakthrough in the coming decades, it simply will not be worth the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of embryos—that is, in my belief, human life—being harvested to reach that point.

It is from a leading scientist, Professor James Sherley, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, that I draw my view that the embryo stem cell research experimentation is basically fanciful. Professor Sherley came to this parliament and outlined his views. I will quote from the Australian of Thursday, 12 October. The quote is lengthy but I think that, given much of this debate is rooted in science, it is worthy for me to read the whole context. Professor Sherley said:

... it is well known that cloned embryos and the stem cells derived from them have defects in their genetic program. These defects will certainly render tissues derived from them ineffective and potentially dangerous.

Second, cloned embryonic stem cells, as with embryonic stem cells in general, form tumours when transplanted into adult tissues. Though some scoff that this problem can be solved with research, it is as difficult as curing cancer.

The third reason is due to a fundamental aspect of mammalian biology. Embryonic cells cannot be used to replace adult tissues. Adult stems cells are responsible for the continuous renewal and repair of adult tissues and organs. They accomplish this by dividing to remake themselves and create new cells that mature to carry out the function of the tissue.

These mature cells have a limited lifetime and must be continuously replaced by the special division of adult stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells cannot replicate in this fashion and the mature cells proposed from them are not sufficiently long-lived to allow effective cures for diseases and injuries in the tissues and organs of children and adults.

Scientists in Australia who promote research based on cloned embryos may be interested in probing living human beings at the earliest stage of life, but they are certainly not going to provide any benefit in the form of new cures.

Much of this debate has been based on the hope of miracle cures of the diseases and disabilities that plague us. Hope of future cures is a great thing and has driven man, medicine and science since, and even before, Louis Pasteur. The truth, as has been well documented, is that adult stem cell research has provided great breakthroughs and advancement in this area of medicine. The hope lies with adult stem cells. All the breakthroughs announced to date have come from adult stem cells, and that includes the reported breakthroughs just a few weeks ago on the use of placenta blood, for example.

If this legislation is passed, we will cross the scientific Rubicon; there will be no turning back. The scientists who have controlled this debate to date will be back again demanding greater freedoms for their research. Their record is on the board. It does not surprise any of us that scientists who do not accept the embryo as life—that is, body and soul—will push the boundaries as far as they can. Why wouldn’t they? Yet what is disappointing is that the parliament has let itself down, because if the legislation is passed it has done what it said it would not do in 2002—that is, allow cloning. So why wouldn’t many in the public fear that the parliament will again extend the boundaries at some time in the future, given that we are already on the threshold of cloning?

In conclusion, it was the Australian newspaper in its editorial that, whilst urging the support for the bill, claimed: ‘What does it matter? The embryos are only a dot at the end of a sentence.’ In urging the Senate to reject this bill, I remind senators—let alone the editor from the Australianthat under the big bang theory the universe was a dot at the end of a sentence to begin with and that, more poignantly, we were all once dots at the end of a sentence.

10:50 am

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006. As a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, which looked into this bill, I believe we are here today to determine several main points: if the destruction of a human embryo for the reason of scientific research could ever be justified and if there is any scientific evidence that human embryonic stem cells would be more advantageous than the already widely used and successful adult stem cells. But I think that the point that remains the most important is that this science, whichever way you choose to look at it, would require a human to be cloned. Whether it is to create embryos for the purpose of their destruction in research, as this bill would allow, or whether it would be for the purposes of reproductive cloning, this legislation would still allow for human cloning. That is the issue we must keep at the forefront of our minds when making a decision regarding this legislation.

Only four years ago, before my time in this place, the Australian parliament debated the merits of this very issue. Back then, both houses of the parliament unanimously rejected all forms of human cloning—that is, reproductive and therapeutic. During that debate Senator Patterson said:

... it is wrong to create human embryos solely for research. It is not morally permissible to develop an embryo with the intent of truncating it at an early stage for the benefit of another human being.

What has changed? That was just four years ago. We could well be mistaken for believing it was half a century ago, given the rate at which Senator Patterson and other people’s consciousness and views seem to have changed on this issue. Back in 2002 the Australian parliament voted to approve the release of surplus IVF embryos for research and study. However, during the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs hearings we heard that only 30 per cent of these surplus embryos have been used for the purpose of obtaining embryonic stem cells for research. Apparently, the other 70 per cent have been used for training clinicians and refining infertility treatments. We can only assume, as a result of this, that some scientists are now craving other sources of embryonic stem cells, specifically from therapeutic cloning through the process of somatic cell nuclear transfer.

However, back in 2002 not a single senator or member chose to move an amendment to allow for therapeutic cloning while banning reproductive cloning. That is exactly what is happening now through this legislation we are considering today. So, if the ethical boundaries and opinions of people can change so quickly in just four years, it leaves one to wonder exactly what we could be back here debating in four years time. Those who have changed their mind from their position on this issue are saying at the moment that they are opposed to reproductive cloning. But how do we know that, in a few short years, we will not be back here debating whether it is appropriate for women to be implanted with cloned embryos or whether it is appropriate for scientists to be able to create another little Johnny for parents who are sick with grief over a lost child?

As much as the proponents of this bill will try to play it down, there are very real ethical considerations behind this legislation. This major alteration in the boundaries of what is acceptable has been advocated by supporters well in advance of research being performed on cloned embryos. There is very little evidence which supports as advantageous a move in the direction of producing cloned embryos for research. We are instead seeing some scientists seeking to lobby members of parliament and asking for freedom to pursue research of this kind purely because they have decided that this is an avenue they want to explore.

By now we are all very familiar with the Lockhart committee’s review into the Prohibition of Human Cloning Act 2002 and the Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002. Throughout the course of the Senate committee’s recent inquiry several doubts were cast on the Lockhart committee’s findings in its review, especially due to the amount of time the committee had to report and the work of the Korean researcher Dr Hwang Woo Suk, since proven to be fraudulent, on which the committee relied heavily. In its submission to the standing committee’s inquiry, the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide stated:

Successful, repeated and peer-reviewed trials in animals has always been seen as a necessary prelude to human trials. Yet Lockhart appeared to ignore such basic scientific processes, basing their conclusions about the potentiality of SCNT and embryo stem cell research on the work of Korean Scientist, Hwang Woo-Suk (since discredited) and a 2005 report from the United Kingdom ... which described a process other than SCNT.

Hardly a mandate for change and hardly evidence of such a pressing nature as to give such warrant as to be able to dismiss the ethical concerns so lightly.

Indeed, it seems that the only scientific evidence which members of the Lockhart review drew from was Dr Hwang’s work. Dr Hwang’s claims that he succeeded in taking stem cell lines from the SCNT process were found to be false. Dr Hwang has also significantly underreported the number of eggs used in his experiments. He actually used four times the amount he reported in his studies, or more than 1,600 eggs. Where did he get all of these eggs from? His research opened up a whole other can of worms, with claims that his junior female researchers were encouraged to donate their eggs for his research. This particular point raised what could become a very real problem regarding this so-called science.

If this legislation were to pass and therapeutic cloning were to be allowed, the biggest problem would be in sourcing eggs from which to create embryos. As in Dr Hwang’s case, this opens up the possibility of women being exploited in order for researchers to get their hands on more eggs. The horrible truth is that we do not know the lengths to which this could go. Just last week we saw the story of a young woman who, at 26 years of age, has put her eggs up for sale on the internet to pay off her £15,000 credit card debt. We have all heard of numerous other cases, some in which young women have been coerced or even forced to donate their eggs. These stories may not all be true, but unfortunately it comes down to the question: how can we be sure? There is a risk that women could be moved to put their health at risk, with the promise of pay-off for their eggs. Women’s Forum Australia, in a media release issued on October 26, stated:

We want the Australian Parliament to know that women are not side issues in the cloning debate. We are central to this debate. Without thousands of eggs from Australian women, cloning will be impossible. To get the eggs, women will have to take large doses of powerful hormones to hyper-simulate their ovaries. This procedure carries well recognised health risks including ovarian hyper stimulation syndrome, organ failure, stroke, respiratory distress and in some cases even death. If cloning goes ahead we know that some women will get sick and some will die. Women will pay the price for research which has no proven benefits.

Women’s Forum Australia goes on to state in the release that overseas experiences show that a commercialised trade is the only way to obtain enough eggs to fulfil the requirements for research. I very much agree with the Women’s Forum when they say that this could lead to marginalised and disadvantaged women putting their health at risk.

The proponents of this bill have sought to allay fears relating to the commodification of human eggs. To be fair, the bill does seek to maintain the current prohibition on the sale of human eggs. However, as is the case in things of this nature, how can we be completely sure that this will not occur? How can we be sure that disadvantaged women will not be subjected to dangerous drug stimulants in order to harvest their eggs in return for payment? Again, the answer of course is that we cannot be sure.

Another issue that seemed to leave many of the committee inquiry participants bewildered was the information, from previous research already completed, that there are inherent dangers in the application and use of human embryonic stem cells, including cancer formation. In his submission to the inquiry, Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filippini said:

Nothing has changed scientifically to support some kind of new argument of necessity to use SCNT embryonic stem cells. If anything, the possibility of developing therapies involving cultured embryonic stem cell transplant has become more remote as more has become known about the difficulties.

It was explained during the inquiry that while the capacity for embryonic stem cells to differentiate easily—known as pluripotency—is seen as a promising characteristic for their use, this very trait is also a significant problem. In his submission, Professor John Martin explained the damaging effects pluripotency may have:

Whatever the origin of ES cells, animal or human, whenever they are transplanted into an animal, they have up to a 25% incidence of growth of a particular type of cancer, a teratoma. No substantial progress has been made towards resolving this problem of cancer development with ES cells. This problem is sufficient by itself to exclude any possibility of using ES cells in therapy for human disease, even if there were strong indications of likely efficacy on other grounds.

And add to this that it would seem that stem cell lines from the process of somatic cell nuclear transfer are thought to be quite unstable. We have seen numerous cases of science creating cloned animals that have been fraught with genetic abnormalities. Dr Tonti-Filippini described it as such:

A disadvantage of SCNT embryos is that they are epigenetically compromised. That is to say, because they have been formed using the nucleus of a somatic cell, many of the gene functions that would normally be available in an embryo are not available. The latter explains the problems of immune system diseases in cloned animals such as Dolly the Sheep. (Dolly was euthanased). It may also explain why it has proved to be so difficult to clone some animals, including humans.

A great difficulty I have had in considering this legislation—and it is a view I know is shared by many of my colleagues in this place—is that it would seem that this debate is almost irrelevant. We must ask ourselves the question: what is the point of crossing this ethical boundary, a boundary which has long been recognised in medicine—the creation of cloned human life only for the purpose of its destruction in the pursuit of knowledge—when there is already so much hope and promise from adult stem cells?

There is plentiful evidence to indicate that adult stem cells are not as erratic or as unpredictable in comparison to embryonic stem cells, nor do they come with the ethical implications that relate directly back to the issue of cloning or destruction of life. Indeed, an independent MP Consulting report, prepared as advice for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and released by the Prime Minister in August, found:

On each of these issues—

the definition of a human embryo, the creation and use of embryos for ART research and the creation of embryos for stem cell research—

there has not been any significant change in the state of play since 2002.

That brings me back to my primary point as to why some people in this place have changed their minds in such a short period of time about not just the ethical implications of this issue but also the implications for society as a whole. There is a real danger that, just as some involved in this current debate have changed their minds from completely opposing therapeutic cloning in 2002 to promoting it just four years later, the current ban against reproductive cloning or procreating cloned embryos beyond the 14-day window could, in an equally short time frame, be back on the agenda because the scientific community comes up with an argument based on: ‘Let’s do it because we can.’ Dr Tonti-Filippini suggested in his evidence:

In the future, there may be some greater benefit to be obtained from using embryos, but as a matter of science it is not clear that they will be of benefit. There seems to be little reason to overturn the existing compromise supported last time by the NHMRC and by a large majority in the Parliaments. A balanced approach may be to maintain the status quo allowing access to excess IVF embryos only and then address the question of deliberately creating them for research purposes at some time in the future if and when animal models show some evidence that benefit is to be obtained from them.

For my part, I do not see that there could ever be a situation where this sort of science could be beneficial. There is so much uncertainty regarding the potential for embryonic stem cells that there is no reason that we should allow the process of cloning or the destruction of human life to take place simply because science says, ‘We can do it, so why not?’

Science cannot be allowed to make decisions for our society. Science cannot be allowed to set the ethical and moral boundaries from within which we are governed. Take a moment to imagine what kind of world it would be if science and research were given free rein without thought for the sanctity of human life. These are the very ideals we must keep in mind when making a decision on this legislation, because this bill is not just a vote to allow for cloning; it is a vote to allow for the destruction of human life and the first step towards handing science a free rein over our morals and over our very lives. I will be voting against this bill and I urge all senators to do the same.

11:07 am

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

I should make it clear at the outset that I have not yet decided how I will vote on the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006 when it comes to the final question being put at the third reading stage. I am sufficiently supportive of the intent of the legislation to vote in favour of giving it a second reading but I wish to listen to the debate at the committee stage of the process to see what amendments are put forward and to give further consideration to some matters before deciding on a final position.

I was one of those who supported the 2002 legislation legalising the use of surplus IVF embryos for stem cell research. Whilst I certainly gave serious consideration to that matter, I would have to say I did not find it a particularly difficult decision, so much so that I did not feel the need to even speak on the legislation. I did not think the matters were anywhere near as complex to consider. The prospect of therapeutic cloning and the issues we are debating today were not genuinely on the agenda at that time.

When I first started examining the issues currently before us, back when the Lockhart committee first reported, I must say I expected to be in a similar situation. I have been somewhat surprised to find that the more I have examined the issues involved and the arguments put forward, the more unsure and conflicted I have become about some of the key issues—a process that has continued over the last week and which continues as I speak, as I have read a wide range of material and sought the views of many people in the scientific and general community. My final vote on the legislation will depend on what amendments might be made or put forward to the legislation at the committee stage and also what is outlined during the debate as being the principles behind certain aspects of the legislation.

I emphasise that I believe there are some positive, indeed necessary, changes to existing laws being made by the legislation before us, particularly with regard to current impediments to research into reproductive technology. Whilst the debate has, understandably, focused on cloning or somatic cell nuclear transfer, many of the Lockhart recommendations went to other issues. I support those as being sensible and desirable. I think it would be unfortunate if those changes were not adopted because they got caught up with other components of the bill that potentially a majority of senators might not support. I do not know whether there is a majority of opposition to any factors in this legislation.

My concerns with some parts of the legislation are not scientific, they are ethical. They do not particularly go to my personal ethics. If I were here simply to look at ways to implement my own personal ethics, I would be moving amendments every second day of the week seeking to restrict the practice of killing animals purely so people can have a more enjoyable meal. But we are not here, even in conscience votes, to seek to impose our personal ethical framework. We can put forward arguments in relation to it but we are here to consider the wider social ethical framework within which we as a society should operate and the laws that should govern our society. My concerns go to the potential wider ethical consequences for our society and some of the individuals within it. I must say that I have found the majority of the debate on the legislation to date—the committee report—to be taking a fairly black and white approach. It has not really touched on my concerns, which has not made my deliberations any easier.

Much has been made in the debate about the possibility that people suffering terrible diseases have been offered false hope of better treatments and cures with unrealistic promises about the potential of research involving embryos made through cloning—also known as SCNT. Whilst the occasional scientist may have gone overboard in promoting the potential of this research, I think that criticism of offering false hope is very unfair for the vast bulk of the scientific community and particularly unfair if it is levelled at the Lockhart committee. It is a criticism that is more fairly aimed at some in the mainstream media who will readily run a miracle cure story alongside the latest miracle diet story, usually with about as much substance. Not surprisingly, such stories can rate well and grab people’s attention, but they can irresponsibly create false hopes, as well as feed community misunderstanding about the nature of scientific and medical research. We cannot blame scientists, on the whole, for this behaviour.

Whilst it is a genuine issue to guard against creating false hopes, we need to be equally conscious of the consequences of taking hope away from people by preventing research that might help produce a cure or better treatments. I simply cannot see how anyone who objectively examines this issue and the matters that have been raised through this legislation can fail to acknowledge that this research—using embryos created through cloning, as well as embryonic stem cell research more broadly, which is already legal in certain circumstances—clearly has the genuine potential of assisting in the development of better treatments and cures of some truly terrible diseases. The evidence provided to the Senate committee and the Lockhart inquiry and in the wider public domain demonstrates this quite clearly.

In this circumstance I believe the onus is not on those promoting this research to have to prove its potential benefits. It is quite clear the potential is there and the only way to determine its real value is to allow the research to happen, as would occur in most other areas of scientific endeavour. The onus is on those of us who would seek to prevent this research to provide very strong reasons as to why it should not be undertaken and why we should take that hope away from people who have some of the conditions that this research may assist with. It is that key question that my considerations are turning upon. The extra onus is really on those who would vote against components of this legislation to have extra justification as to why there is sufficiently good reason to take away some of that hope for future sufferers. Is it for the wider long-term good of our society not to legalise some of this activity and not to give tacit approval to the argument being used to justify its use? We can all think of arguments and circumstances where we would say, ‘No, research in this circumstance should not be allowed.’ To use an obvious and extreme example, conducting fatal brain experimentation on living adult humans could no doubt yield useful medical information in certain circumstances but it is something that is clearly accepted as unethical by society, no matter what the potential gain.

I use that extreme example simply to demonstrate that we all recognise that boundaries must be drawn in many areas of life, including in medical research. The key challenge is in deciding where those boundaries should be, particularly when the setting of such a boundary can involve taking away hope of a better life for sufferers of serious diseases, however far in the future those improvements may arrive. One must have good reasons, rather than simply indulging oneself in personal preference.

I believe that legalising the creation of human embryos through cloning is a significant ethical shift for our society. Creating those embryos solely for the purpose of research is also a significant shift. Allowing human embryo clones to be cultivated in the eggs of animals for research purposes is also a significant shift. Making a conscious policy and legislative decision that those embryos have less intrinsic worth than other embryos is perhaps the most significant shift of all, and it is the one that I have most concerns about. It could go beyond the confines of the specific situations covered in this legislation.

Of course there is nothing wrong with the parliament or a society deciding to make significant ethical shifts in response to new knowledge, enhanced understanding or evolving values and beliefs. In many ways, that is the way progress is built upon and we move beyond previous understandings. If we look back at what were seen as the ethically accepted views 100 years ago, in some circumstances we would see some of them as being quite ignorant by current standards. So I am certainly not arguing against the notion of making such shifts. But when we make such shifts I think we need to be very conscious not just as a parliament, although that would be a good start, but also as a community more broadly, as much as is reasonably possible, about what it is we are doing, why we are doing it and what values we are adopting and incorporating along with that. At this stage of the debate I can only say that when it comes to the key question of whether it is the right thing to legalise the creation of embryos through cloning techniques specifically for the purposes of research I am still unsure, as I am about whether the use of animal eggs in such a process should also be legalised.

It is not my job, nor would I suggest is it the job of anyone in this Senate, to second-guess what type of scientific research would bear the most fruit. We are not scientists, or very few of us are; we are legislators. Indeed, the anti-science and anti-scientist flavour of some of the debate around this legislation has concerned me greatly. I do not think you can pick and choose when you want to say science is a good thing depending on whether or not it produces answers that you are comfortable with. We need to open ourselves to the exploration of knowledge wherever possible, unless there are very good reasons not to.

I have been particularly baffled by the arguments that suggest that embryonic stem cell research, whether using SCNT embryos or other embryos, can produce nothing of medical value that cannot be done through pursuing research into adult stem cells. Frankly, for anyone, and certainly for a senator in this place—who should and must have done some research into this issue before speaking on this matter—to say point blank that the science tells us that this will not produce cures is simply intellectually dishonest. I understand those who say that ethically they cannot support any legislation which authorises the destruction of embryos, even though that is not a view I share. However, I find it harder to respect those with no scientific qualifications who still try to attack the science as having no potential when the facts so obviously show otherwise.

As I have said, those who oppose this legislation have the strongest responsibility to justify why we are taking away the hope of treatments and cures from the sufferers of debilitating illnesses and why we are turning ourselves away from the potential knowledge that we could find. To use the reason that our society’s values should be such that no human life, even that of a 14-day-old embryo, should be deliberately terminated in any circumstances is a reason some might put forward that I can see as valid, even though it is not one that I agree with. But to say that this research should not be permitted because of a spurious assessment that it will not produce cures I think not only is to engage in intellectual dishonesty but also is a cowardly way of avoiding accepting responsibility for a decision to take away legitimate hope.

I have found the unfounded attacks that some have made on the integrity and professionalism of the members of the Lockhart committee particularly unfair and unreasonable. Attacking scientists because they have a view that you do not like is most unfair. Attacking them for the fact that they might make money out of some of their research is equally unreasonable, particularly in a society like ours. As a person who has been wrestling with some of the issues involved here, such personal and unfounded attacks have certainly not made me any more favourably disposed towards considering the views of those who engage in them. However, whilst my examination of the matter before us has increased my general admiration and respect for scientists and the work they do, they must of course, as they themselves acknowledge, operate within the bounds of our society’s laws and ethics.

There have been many different reasons and rationales put forward for and against this legislation. Some of them I have found to have some merit but insufficient weight on their own to make the case for or against. Some I have found to focus on matters that are really outside the legislation we are considering. A lot of the debate and argument surrounding this legislation has been rerunning embryonic stem cell arguments, which frankly we dealt with four years ago.

As we all know, this legislation is subject to a conscience vote. As a Democrat senator, I always have the right and responsibility to vote according to conscience on any matter, should I feel strongly enough about it. However, the fact that senators from all parties have the opportunity to do likewise on this specific legislation does of course bring greater weight to my own deliberations. I wish we had more conscience votes in parliament or at least a greater acceptance of the right of parliamentarians to vote differently from the majority of their colleagues on those occasions where they have strongly enough held and well enough informed views to the contrary. I think that would dramatically improve the effectiveness and legitimacy of our democratic process. However, that is a debate for another day. A conscience vote means we are all entitled to vote according to what we believe is right, but the right to use our conscience also entails a responsibility to do what we can to ensure our conscience is well informed. I think that means opening your mind to the arguments and seeking to consider a range of views.

Father Frank Brennan has just released a book which is quite timely—not just for this debate, I would suggest, but also for many issues our society is currently wrestling with—called Acting on Conscience: How Can We Responsibly Mix Law, Religion and Politics? Perhaps we could add in science and a few other things as well there. As he notes, exercising one’s conscience, particularly in a public decision-making capacity, does not just mean going with one’s own personal preference or being free to do your own thing; it means coming to a decision after making a genuine effort to fully inform oneself and draw on the wisdom, views and beliefs of others and the wider society more broadly where possible and necessary.

I thought the Senate committee process examining this legislation was somewhat unsatisfactory. Rather than a genuine attempt to inquire into the issues, it seemed more like a partisan exercise, which is probably not that unusual in this place, except that the partisan divide did not run along party lines for a change. It was also, clearly, too rushed for such important legislation and such significant issues. That is also something that has become much more commonplace in this Senate, unfortunately, in the last year or so. However, there have also been some very worthwhile and thoughtful contributions from all sides of the debate. I would like to thank those people who provided submissions and evidence to the Senate committee inquiry. Given the importance of the issue before us, we need to examine more the substance of the arguments that need to be considered.

I would like to particularly pay tribute to the members of the Lockhart committee, both for their original inquiry and report and also for the way they have conducted themselves and continued to make themselves available throughout this process, even though this has opened them up to some quite disgraceful and unfounded attacks on their character and professionalism. Whilst I may end up disagreeing with some of their recommendations, I think they have undertaken the task that they were given with great distinction and they deserve credit for it. I think the process they used, whilst it was not totally perfect, certainly contrasts well with the process that we have had to use in considering the legislative aspects of this issue.

This legislation is not about abortion. It is not really about whether to allow embryonic stem cell research, something which it is already legal to use embryos for in certain circumstances. Whilst I am very keen to give scientists in Australia every opportunity to be at the cutting edge of international scientific research, that is not reason enough on its own to legalise research that is currently illegal.

I am one of those who believe that the ends do not, on their own, justify the means. The means by which we pursue something do tend to influence the end that we actually reach. I can accept that it may be appropriate in some circumstances for our society to legalise the creation of embryos for the purpose of using them for research, as long as such research is undertaken before the embryo starts to develop the beginning of any sort of nervous system. I appreciate that many in the community do not support such a view, but I do not think that that their view is held widely enough or strongly enough throughout our entire community to prevent those who hold a different view from being able to conduct such research when it clearly has the potential to bring great benefits to many people.

However, I am very uncomfortable with the prospect that our society could legally institutionalise a notion that some embryos have greater intrinsic worth than others depending the method of their creation—whether they were created through cloning techniques or through an egg and sperm. I am very uncomfortable with the fact that the very first step our nation takes towards legalising the creation of a human embryo through cloning should be accompanied by a very specific assessment that this embryo has a lesser status and a lower intrinsic value than a human embryo produced by an egg and sperm. Frankly, I can live with that in the context of the specific activities the legislation seeks to legalise, but the rationale and values accompanying that are not quarantined within a single piece of legislation; they do become part of our social and scientific ethical base into the future.

This was a matter that was touched on in the Lockhart report, where it spoke about different embryos having different social and relational significance. It was specifically touched on, although briefly, in the majority report of the Senate committee inquiry in paragraph 3.31, which quite specifically stated that embryos created through cloning have a lower status than an embryo produced by egg and sperm. That concerns me, and I will continue to wrestle with the concerns I have about that over the next day or two.

11:26 am

Photo of Annette HurleyAnnette Hurley (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Politicians are not elected to make expert decisions about complex technical matters. I believe our role is to represent our electors in evaluating a reasonable outcome from competing interests, often in quite complicated debates such as the debate on the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006. I majored in biochemistry and microbiology for my Bachelor of Science degree, and it was tempting to get immersed only in the scientific detail of this debate. However, it has been over 20 years since I was in a laboratory and, while not quite as deficient as some of the opinions in this debate, my scientific expertise is nothing to be relied upon.

For my scientific understanding of the relevant facts I have relied very heavily on an excellent summary, Key recent advances in human embryonic stem cell research by Dr Nicholas Gough. Clearly Dr Gough has no blame for my ultimate decision on this bill. His paper in fact removes any excuse, I believe, for voting against the bill on scientific grounds. His paper outlines that human embryonic stem cells have been derived for over eight years now and there are more than 75 fully characterised lines and perhaps 300 with unstated levels of characterisation. There have also been some improvements in tissue stem cell field research. These improvements have demonstrated greater developmental potency than previously thought, so that is some advance, but have also demonstrated some significant restrictions, which means that tissue stem cell work cannot be taken as far as the human embryonic stem cells. Dr Gough, as part of his research, concludes that ‘to maximise the potential of regenerative medicine in its totality, appropriate, non-polarised research across the spectrum of cell types’ is required.

I am convinced also from my review of the information that using adult stem cells will not, certainly over the short to medium term, substitute for somatic cell nuclear transfer. That means that by restricting SCNT technology we run a clear risk of not developing technologies that will assist human medicine.

I have to say, almost in parentheses, that I am very attracted to the proposition outlined under one of the points in the Parliamentary Library paper Therapeutic cloning: the pros and cons. It says:

Markus Grompe, a leading US researcher in the field, suggested that, theoretically, it should be possible to by-pass the embryonic stage and proceed from a somatic cell to a stem cell by over expressing a gene in either a somatic cell or oocyte. A US ethicist, molecular biologist and priest, Tadeusz Pacholczyk, favours such a future possibility because it would avoid over-reaching to a toti-potent state, that is, where a complete embryo could be developed. The somatic cells would be reprogrammed to a pluri-potent state only.

But obviously that is a future technology which will take many years to reach, if indeed it does fulfil its potential.

I think many of these technologies that we are discussing will take some time to get past even an approved research stage to a clinical stage, and I am very disappointed that this debate has encouraged some people with severe diseases or who know people with severe diseases to think that there may be some sort of cure in sight. I certainly do not blame anyone in this chamber, but I had a call today in my electorate office from a man whose wife has been recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, who was very unhappy about a report in my local newspaper that I would vote against this bill. I think it is very disappointing that vulnerable people who are sick themselves or whose family members are sick—and I think many of us would have been in that situation and would understand exactly what he is going through—might have this false hope that this kind of technology can produce cures within a few years. I think that is a very unfortunate aspect of this debate, which has otherwise produced some very interesting and good conclusions.

However, despite my view that voting against this bill will restrict scientific discovery, I do not think that it will be critical to advances in this area in Australia. Above all, my reasoning is that it is essential that such sensitive research be appropriately regulated and overseen, as it has been up to now. It is also critically important that scientific and ethical policies be monitored and enforced. But I do not think we have clarified the ethical parameters that will be tolerated by our society, and it is therefore impossible to put in place adequate policy to cover the justified concerns put during this debate. In particular, I believe we need to proceed cautiously and conservatively with regard to any science that deals with human life and reproduction. Therefore, it is a difficult decision, but I have decided that I will not support this bill.

11:33 am

Photo of Andrew MurrayAndrew Murray (WA, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Patterson’s Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006 may end up as the lucky 18th private senator’s or member’s bill to pass into law in 105 years of the Australian Commonwealth—or it may not. The numbers are close, apparently. In terms of the two houses, there have been 10 private senator’s bills and seven private member’s bills—17 altogether—passed into law in the 105 years of the Australian Commonwealth. As those numbers show, these occasions when private bills come to the vote are rare events. They require prime ministerial backing to be given the Senate sitting time to even advance this far. The numbers of private bills that never make it are legion. Right now there are 54 private senator’s bills on the Senate Notice Paper, of which eight are mine. Mine focus on issues of accountability and integrity, like freedom of information or public disclosure, electoral matters and political honesty—so they will never see the light of day under the coalition. Can you even imagine this government attending to moral and ethical issues like those? I cannot. So congratulations to Senator Patterson on breaking through. Perhaps it is indeed a miracle.

Of course, as in most legislative endeavours, Senator Patterson is not alone. Senator Stott Despoja has laboured for many a long year on these scientific health and research matters, consistently and persistently raising them in public and chamber debate. If Senator Patterson triumphs, it will be Senator Stott Despoja’s victory too. Senator Webber has joined Senator Stott Despoja in proposing a draft bill that parallels Senator Patterson’s, and there are many others deserving credit for advancing this particular cause, such as Dr Mal Washer from the House of Representatives.

This bill has been characterised by some as religion versus science, belief versus reason. If this is true at all, it is only true to an extent. The ranks of those against these initiatives are filled with those who wear religion as a badge, but they are also filled with those who do not; and the ranks of those who support Senator Patterson’s bill are also filled with those who are churchgoers. So to describe this bill as religion versus science is somewhat simplistic and probably inaccurate. If there is perceived to be a small group of parliamentarians who argue as if they are under orders, that would somewhat diminish the claim to conscience. I am sure that, if such a group does indeed exist, it is very small.

Personally, I am too conscious of the past and present of history and practice to be inclined to automatically accept the urgings of many religious leaders. I am too conscious of some of the old religions’ attachment to profit, power and politics, of the practice of hypocrisy, of pockets of paedophilia, of bellicosity and hatreds, of misogyny and homophobia, to be unquestioning of their orders. As for some of the new religions, they seem to have the vices of the old, as far as I can see, with a particular love of profit. I am unimpressed by thin-lipped bigots who extol the virtues of families, tearfully begging forgiveness when they are found out. I am unimpressed at the way too many have latched onto the ‘con’ in congregation—but I will concede that their trancelike devotees do look happy to have their pockets so entertainingly picked. And when you are confronted by images of people who shout, ‘God is great,’ while blowing up some poor woman on the way to the shops, you can understand how religious fervour can get a bad name.

No, I am all for the old-fashioned idea of faith. The religions and priests I like are those that do not blanch at the thought of a female archbishop, that are not con artists and that do not think men are so beastly that women have to be covered in cloth from head to toe. I like people who practise faith, hope, light, peace, charity and good works; I like people who are fallible, tolerant and human. Fortunately, I know quite a few like that, so it turns out that one can have faith after all.

There are of course mad scientists as well as religious maniacs. Science has given us many of the evils of our time: environmental, social and economic disasters. This bill, however, is not about harming but about helping. Certainly there are ethical issues to weigh up. Certainly there are scientific and ethical arguments that support cases for and against the provisions of this bill. I am not going to indulge, in this speech on the second reading, in a forensic determination of the scientific and ethical arguments on either side. To some degree I do not understand them all and to some degree I am not equipped to do that in full.

With all due respect to the sincere speeches from all sides of the chamber, in following this debate I have taken particular interest in the views of senators from the Liberal Party, at last left off the leash from the awful oppression of the Howard doctrine of conscienceless conformity. I wanted to see where their new consciences would take them. I always attend carefully to the views of Senator Humphries—a careful, kind and thoughtful man. I was captured by a beguiling speech from Senator Ronaldson. Senator Vanstone, a woman worth having on your side, entertained us, as she nearly always does, with an intellectual and at times idiosyncratic exposition. Senator Minchin was reasoned, forthright, consistent and unshakeable—all characteristics of his. My friend Senator Ferguson was his usual open, honest and decisive self. When he said he could not forgive himself if he voted against this bill, he really did mean it. Like Senator Ferguson, Senator Barnett brought his own anguish over incurable diseases with him to the debate, but has come to a different conclusion.

I weighed up the conflicting views of two good doctors, both Liberals from Western Australia: Drs Alan Eggleston and Mal Washer. My decision is that I give my vote to Mal. The rule of law is under assault in this country and our rights and liberties are being eroded by the executive, but I do not fear that the rule of law is so eroded that the safeguards and penalties that prevent human cloning in Australia will prove useless. I do not fear that I will live to see centaurs, minotaurs or satyrs. I do not fear that Frankenstein will be regenerated, although some would say he already has been and he has got a Senate seat. I do not fear mad scientists will pervert the intention of this legislation, not because I do not expect Australia to have its share of mad scientists but because I think the legislation gives us appropriate safeguards against them.

What I do fear is that if I voted against this bill my vote could extinguish the chance for scientists to find ways to cure diseases that are beyond us at present. What I do fear is what Senator Alan Ferguson captured in the final words of his speech. To repeat his words exactly: I would never be able to forgive myself if I did not support a bill that would give medical scientists every chance to find a cure for these diseases. That is my position. I will consider amendments on their merits, but I will support the bill.

11:41 am

Photo of Nick SherryNick Sherry (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Banking and Financial Services) Share this | | Hansard source

The Senate is considering the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006. We have a conscience vote. This is the fourth occasion in my 16 years in the Senate where we have been allowed to decide the issue based on our own examination of the facts and come to a personal decision based on our own set of personal values. I would have to say I do not fear conscience votes. In fact, I wish we had a few more conscience votes in the parliament. I do not see that they are a threat or will undermine party discipline or democracy as it has evolved and as we currently practise it in Australia. So I think it is a good thing that we are from time to time presented with decisions that we have to arrive at in a non-collective way and that we will be held accountable for those decisions. I do not shy away from that responsibility, nor do I fear it or worry about it, although I have worried a great deal about the decision I have to make on this particular piece of legislation.

It is not my intention to go into detailed analysis of the vast amount of material on the issue before us. That has been referred to to varying extents very well by a considerable range of senators and the issues are well canvassed in the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs report. I would like to congratulate all the senators who were involved in that particular report on their diligence and hard work—again, I think, a good example of the very good work that Senate committees do.

My approach to issues around human life has been a socially conservative one. It is not a social conservatism based on an active involvement in religion or Christianity. However, I am a student of history. I read a lot of history, and I have a general moral view that in our approach to dealing with issues surrounding human life we should be extremely cautious about how we proceed. It was very difficult for me to come to a conclusion on this matter. The central problem is moral and ethical; there are two difficult moral and ethical issues to resolve. On previous occasions in considering these matters, as is on the record, I have made it clear that it is with great trepidation and worry that I view developments around experimenting with the fundamental building block of life. I have great concerns about where experimentation in this area is going to lead us, perhaps not in my lifetime but in 50 or 100 years time. That is a socially conservative view. I know that on both sides of this debate there has been some exaggeration, but I do genuinely worry about the ‘Boys from Brazil’ type evolution of the human species.

The other moral and ethical issue I had to consider was the possibility—and I do say it is a possibility—and the hope that there may be some scientific advance as a consequence of this legislation that would see the improved diagnosis and treatment of what are currently untreatable diseases. I had to consider whether there was any realistic possibility of dealing with these serious medical diseases with an alternative approach. So they are the two difficult ethical and moral issues I have had to deal with.

On this occasion I have to say, without a great deal of confidence and with a great deal of worry about where we are headed, that I have come to the considered view that I will support the second reading of the bill. It was a very difficult decision and not one that I have easily come to. I believe this experimentation is not without some risks in the future, as experimentation proceeds in this area. Nevertheless, I have with a great deal of worry, concern and reluctance, come to the conclusion that it is best that the bill should pass the Senate and the Parliament of Australia. However, I will be looking very closely at amendments that attempt to deal with further safeguards as experimentation moves forward in this area. I am sure those amendments will be forthcoming. I have not seen any as yet, but I will examine those amendments on their merit.

I have come to a general conclusion that the bill should pass, with the possibility of perhaps greater scrutiny and safeguards with regard to the moral and ethical issues involved. I have had to weigh up very carefully the issues around experimentation with the building block of life versus the argument that there is the possibility of a cure for presently incurable diseases. I do not like to see people offered false hope. I do understand the significant medical health issues faced by people who suffer a range of serious diseases. If there is some hope that treatments can be developed then morally and ethically that should proceed, but with great caution. In my case, it will involve a great deal of worry about how that should occur and about ultimately where it will lead.

It is strange in politics how you come to a conclusion. When I flew into Devonport last week the cab driver and I got involved in a conversation. He had a retarded child, 33 years of age. He was explaining to me some of the great difficulties he and his wife had experienced in having to deal with the issues around having a retarded child. I do not know how a family can cope with these often grave issues. I have enormous respect for any parent who has to look after a child whose capacity is limited and who experiences suffering in this way. I think governments should place much greater priority on providing the resources to assist in this area. I just do not know how these families cope with the grave difficulties associated with having such a child.

Talking to that cab driver encapsulated my general worry and my belief that we should at least try to do more for the people in the community who suffer these appalling diseases. Some claims about the great advances that can be made have been a little overblown—such advances remain to be seen. But if the life of even a few people can be improved by advances in research, and thus diagnosis and treatment in this area, certainly that is a more important ethical and moral consideration when weighed against the ethical and moral considerations involved in experimenting with the building block of life. It was not an easy decision I came to last night, after a great deal of thought and grappling with what is an extremely difficult issue.

I would like to thank all the senators who have participated in the debate. I think it has generally been a debate conducted well and based on a great deal of knowledge and thinking. It is our role as legislators in a community to set parameters around a variety of moral and ethical issues. That is the role of government. We might disagree about how it is done, where it is done, and the amount of detail, but it is the role of the government of the day to deal with these issues. This is not an issue that should be solely dealt with by scientists. We have a community responsibility, in a Western society where Judaeo-Christian values are rightly at the forefront of our consideration of life, and we should not shy away from that or be afraid of it.

I have been pleased with the general respect shown by senators towards each other in a debate where there are strongly held views. For my own part, perhaps I should not have indicated to the Australian last week that I was undecided on this matter because I then received an absolute bombardment of emails, requests to speak to me, and all manner of information through the mail. Generally, my approach has been to consider the issue on its merits, read at least some of the material—particularly the Senate committee report—weigh up the issues based on my own personal experiences and ethical values, and come to the conclusion that I have. In concluding, I state that I will look very, very carefully at amendments that may deal with some of the more difficult regulatory and governance type management issues of this legislation, as I anticipate it will be passed. I think we need to focus on some of those issues in the committee stage.

11:55 am

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make my contribution to the second reading debate on the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006. Like others in this place—certainly mirroring the comments that Senator Sherry has just made—this has been an extremely difficult process for me. It is very exposing to stand up in this place and, in front of the nation, on an issue of such importance as this, put yourself out there on the public record.

In that context, I congratulate Senator Patterson, Senator Stott Despoja and Senator Webber for having the courage to bring this particular issue before the parliament in the first place. It is very confronting and, as the debate has indicated so far, it is a difficult issue for people to grapple with. It takes a significant amount of thought time to come to a decision. Like the speaker before me, Senator Sherry, it has taken me a long time to sort this out and work out what my general direction is going to be.

I thank my constituents who have contacted me, and my colleagues for the way they have conducted this debate. I think it has been very considered. There have been some extrapolations, on both sides of the debate, in relation to what might or might not occur but generally it has been a very civilised process. And I think that stands this chamber in very good stead.

When I first came to the debate and when I first took notice of some of the issues being put before us it was in the context of the potential for development of unique therapies that removed the risk of rejection—therapies developed specifically for an individual through the process of cloning. At that point in time I started considering the scale of what was being considered, and an issue that came to my mind was the resource that was required to deal with that process. There were some people who, very early in the piece, expressed concern about where that resource was going to come from. I think John Anderson was one of the people who expressed concern. Not being so brave, or perhaps keeping my own counsel, I decided not to say anything about that but to do some further research.

It now transpires, following further discussions and questioning, that that may not be the way that it is all going to go. It may be that there are a number of lines that are developed that assist a majority of people. Up to 80 per cent of the population can be looked after through this process through a certain number of lines. But that demonstrates to me that within the process there are still a huge number of possibilities, options and directions that this can take. It may be that a unique therapy is developed, and that raises serious concerns in my mind. Those concerns, particularly in relation to supply of eggs, have been expressed a number of times on all sides of the debate during the last two days.

In my mind, what we are considering is research that is complementary in respect of what we decided on in 2002 in relation to adult stem cells. What is being proposed is obviously another step, and some see it as the thin end of a wedge and the progression down a so-called slippery slope. As it took me a long time to come to a decision in relation to adult stem cells, consideration of that next step, and whether it was in fact the thin end of a wedge or a progression down a slippery slope, was something that I really needed to take some time considering. My conscience told me that I had essentially crossed the Rubicon when I decided to support the stem cell research in 2002, as difficult as that might have been. But having made that decision still did not take away the concerns that I had in relation to the regulation or management of the supply of human body parts, specifically eggs, to deal with this process.

We heard several times today and yesterday about who ought to be in control of the ethics surrounding this process. It is a concern that I also have in relation to this. Senator Bob Brown, whom I very rarely agree with in most debates, I think expressed very well that we need to maintain some control, as the Australian parliament, of the ethics and the regulation of these technologies and where they are heading. In my view that is, importantly, our responsibility—that we retain oversight of this. It was said very early in the debate that this was just the first step and we would be back to debate this again—and perhaps we should. As the technology develops, we should consider where we are at and where we are going, and we should not be frightened of coming back to consider it. As hard as it may be, as exposing as it may be, I think we should be more than prepared to come back as many times as it takes to ensure that the proper regulations, the proper protections, are in place that ensure that this research is carried out in a moral and ethical way that is in accord with the wishes of the Australian people through the Australian parliament. To that end, I flag that I will be moving amendments to the bill to that effect.

The bill calls for the NHMRC to develop guidelines that support the legislation in relation to the donation of eggs and how they are managed. In my view, a better way to deal with that, and a more responsible way for us to oversight that, would be through regulation. So I will be moving an amendment that regulations rather than guidelines be put into place to oversight that process. That obviously means that potentially we will be back here to look at the regulations, but I do not have a problem with that. I do not fear that. I think that is our responsibility. I think that is a way that we can ensure that the issues that I have spoken about before are properly and responsibly managed by us and that we can retain that proper oversight.

Further, I will be moving an amendment to the effect that the bill does not effectively commence until those regulations are in place, so that we know that the protections are in place before we start moving things forward. I see that fundamentally as our responsibility. During previous debates on other issues, particularly on RU486, the responsibility for oversight was taken away from the parliament—from the minister, initially, but in my view it should have remained with the parliament. I see that we have a responsibility in relation to this.

I did some research on the situation that exists nationally in relation to oversight of human tissue. The results were quite interesting. They demonstrated a very varied regulatory oversight regime across the country, which varies from state to state. A paper was prepared in 2004 by Imogen Goold, ‘Tissue donation: Ethical guidance and legal enforceability’, and published in the Journal of Law and Medicine. In the conclusions it indicates that the ‘regulation of human tissue donation and use in Australia is well regulated in many ways’. But it did indicate that legislation has not kept up with ethical guidelines. The proposition was put that all state human tissue acts require comprehensive revision.

Given the context and the import of the issues that we are discussing today, that drives me more strongly to assert that what we should be considering in relation to the oversight of this issue is regulation, not guidelines. Beyond such state legislation, eggs, adult and embryonic stem cells are not necessarily nationally covered in a consistent way. Therefore, in my view, it may be argued that regulations may be developed as part of this process. However, the growing complexity of non-blood based human-tissue based therapies and therapies yet to be devised—whether adult or embryonic stem cell therapies—suggests to me that an overarching national regulatory approach is required.

My support for the bill is in some sense conditional. I will be putting those amendments during the committee stage of the debate. I strongly urge senators to positively consider them. I think it is the right thing for us to be doing, and that is the basis of my support for the legislation after all the consideration, thought and consultation. I will not say ‘lobbying’ because I do not think you can lobby a conscience. Unlike Senator Sherry, I have remained aloof to media calls and other things of that nature. I can make up my own mind and I can seek out my own information. Fortunately, that approach has spared me the inundation that some others might have received from one side of the equation or the other. Perhaps, having let the cat out of the bag, I might not be so successful next time. It has been a very difficult process for us all and I think it is appropriate that my views are rightly demonstrated here in the chamber rather than counted in a poll in one of the newspapers or elsewhere in the media. I look forward to engagement with senators in further parts of the debate.

12:08 pm

Photo of Santo SantoroSanto Santoro (Queensland, Liberal Party, Minister for Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

I am sure that colleagues both in the Senate and in the other place will appreciate that my position as a commentator on this bill is somewhat delicate. As the Minister for Ageing, I potentially have carriage of the activities which could be carried out under the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006 if it receives parliamentary approval. At the same time, as a senator for Queensland, I must deliberate on this bill by considering the merits of the various arguments even if my personal sympathies are ultimately at odds with my responsibilities as a minister. Such, I suppose, is the nature of so-called conscience votes and such, of course, is the nature of being a minister. Each of us is required to implement equally without prejudice or bias both those laws we are naturally inclined to celebrate and those laws we privately find unpalatable.

Since I became the Minister for Ageing early this year, I have had a strong interest in the response of the government to the Lockhart inquiry, as well as in the efficient implementation of the licensing regime for embryo research created by this parliament in 2002. I have, as is appropriate within a pluralist democracy, taken a professional rather than a personal approach to these tasks. Today, however, I believe it is in many ways more appropriate to make a personal statement. My personal views on issues of live embryo experimentation, cloning, hybrids, chimeras and other variants of destructed embryo research are well known to senators both beside and opposite me. Nonetheless, this issue calls for clear and plain speaking and I am happy to restate my position.

I believe that, at the most basic level, the decision to suspend the recognition of a life or to redefine life as being at a certain point which suits a particular branch of scientific research offers a threat to our most fundamental concept of our own humanity. Many colleagues will be aware of the notion of Pascal’s wager, which is the proposition that one should accept Christianity because, if it is wrong, the cost of participation is low but, if it is true, the cost of exclusion is high. While I do not dispute the logic of that, I have always found it to be a somewhat disreputable proposition. It asks us to choose faith as a risk management tool rather than as a source of illumination.

In this bill, we are being asked to make a similar though somewhat more challenging wager. We are being asked to stake the many potential lives of embryonic humans on the prospect that there may be some benefit, either incremental or miraculous, for those whose lives have already passed from the potential to the actual. I have several problems with that wager, not the least of which is that it sets a precedent for exchange and values one life more highly than another. I know that many people console themselves that this is not a real exchange, that we can delineate a critical point where life begins, but I suggest that this is an argument of convenience and not a contention of fact. Again, I suggest that what is at stake here is our humanity. It is a question of justice, which should not be answered in terms of convenience.

I would also alert colleagues that what is being presented here as a simple extension of the decision supported in 2002 is in fact a radical reinterpretation of the principles of that decision. In 2002 the parliament accepted that surplus embryos—in effect, unfortunate by-products of the IVF process—might provide a public good by being used for experimentation rather than being allowed to naturally expire. The argument relies on two pillars: first, that IVF is a positive act towards creating life—and I am certainly not going to contest that—and, second, that there is an extended good in deriving scientific information from embryos created as surplus in this process.

The latter point remains highly controversial. It is a judgement with which I personally retain some discomfort. More importantly, I note that the proposal that we are here to deal with today throws those two pillars out the window. We are now told, contrary to the 2002 assertion that the creation of embryos which might find their way to the research laboratory should only be a consequence of the creation of life, that at least two new categories of embryos—clones and hybrids—should be created subject to the condition that they may never be allowed to advance life. This is a remarkable reversal in four short years. It limits any confidence we might have that the new and final ethical boundaries being offered in this debate are more than transient positions.

Other colleagues in the last 24 hours have spoken most eloquently on the issue of studied incrementalism and the proximity this proposal gives us to reproductive cloning, and I commend them on that. But what bothers me even more than such abhorrent prospects is that this Senate and this parliament are being asked to make the wager, the exchange of life and to reverse the tortuously agreed upon position of 2002 on little more than rhetoric.

In coming to my position on this bill, I have, as have undoubtedly many other colleagues on both sides of the argument, sought the advice of the most learned ethicists and scientists available. After each discussion, I have found the argument to be less and less clear. The proposition being put is that the exchange of life between the potential and the actual is justified by possible breakthroughs to end current suffering. I am confident that all 76 members of this chamber are naturally sympathetic to the goals of that argument. We recognise that many fellow human beings suffer greatly on a day-to-day basis and that, where there is an opportunity to alleviate that suffering, whether today or in 20 years, there is a moral drive to do so. But we draw lines on that. We no longer allow involuntary experimentation on prisoners and we no longer view any branch of society as having diminished rights against threats to their privacy, dignity or life where science is concerned.

But here we are asked to create a new dividing line which diminishes further the rights of embryonic humans in exchange for our common desire to help those who are suffering. Others, both publicly and in this place, have noted that honourable senators, including proponents of the current bill, are making proposals which they explicitly rejected and abhorred in 2002. This is a chamber of debate and reflection, and colleagues are both allowed and encouraged to change their minds when evidence changes. I must say that I am troubled that one can not only change one’s mind but also contest the very validity or appropriateness of a claim one was willing to endorse so strongly in relatively recent times, but that is a matter for individual conscience—and that, I suppose, is what the debate today is all about.

The real problem I have is that, after the best part of a year of public and parliamentary discussion on this matter, the evidence for this dramatic ethical realignment has failed to emerge. I really do appreciate that there is a list of diseases for which we currently have no cure. I appreciate that there are theories by which, after 15 years of research and a few more years of commercialisation, cloned and hybrid embryos might—might—provide a pathway to relieve suffering. I appreciate that those senators committed to supporting this bill will do so in the belief that this is a sufficiently complete equation. But for me it is not complete. Such a bold reversal in our communal ethical judgement should require compelling evidence to support it, and even the most dogmatic supporters of this legislation have, during this debate and before it, failed to provide any such evidence. There is no proof either that therapies will be derived from this vein of research or that the research itself is safe for human experimentation. The latter, of course, explains the drive to create embryo experimentation. If we accept the new regime, then we have the opportunity to experiment on humans without worrying about the consequences. Amongst other things, embryos lack the wherewithal for a class action.

I find it remarkable that this bill has been put with such force and such haste and in such an absolute vacuum of evidence. As senators would know, embryo cloning is legal in some countries, and has been for some years, yet it does not appear to have been the irresistible magnet for top scientists that proponents of today’s bill would have us believe. One cannot help but get the feeling that at the roots of the desire to remove the prohibition on cloning and hybrid embryos is a lack of faith in the democratic process—that parliament is unfit to draw a line between what is right and what is possible.

It is a peculiar feature of recent times, and of this Senate in particular, that science is now our ‘new sacred’. It was once a given that our values and actions had reference points in what was right and good and what most of us believe about this world and the next. We are now told that there is no place for such petty abstractions where they stand in the way of research. We are asked to baptise what is possible rather than what is good. I would contest this change in approach, because I believe it is both unsustainable and dangerous. The presumption behind this proposed reallocation of our trust and faith is that science is purely an altruistic endeavour. For those of us involved in politics, or for anyone who has their eyes open, this requires a fairly broad suspension of disbelief.

Without denying the desire for good which drives many researchers, I would suggest to senators that science, from the time of the ancients, through Newton and through to today, has been accompanied by a range of perhaps less admirable drivers. At heart, science is driven by curiosity, which is a necessity for a good researcher but does not in any way translate to justice. Accompanying this are the traditional structures of universities, research institutes and peer environments in which scientists operate, where prestige and promotion are common goals and where ‘publish or perish’ remains a powerful dictum. Again, one struggles to find elements of justice here.

Finally, we have the more contemporary challenge to the natural altruist: the lure of biotechnology commercialisation. I do not think that anyone in this place would think that someone of my philosophical colour would find it difficult to reconcile the prospect of justice and economic return, but it concerns me that in this case an imbalance between the two is eroding the quality of the argument. This problem is also present in contemporary ethics, where the commercial sources of many ethicists’ incomes are insufficiently distant from the objects of their contemplation. In short, science, as the Lockhart report so clearly reminds us, is a business, and I think that it is the business of science we are being asked to approve here today rather than its more noble goals.

We all know what I mean. Most of us here are old enough to remember the tobacco researchers who told us that there was no link to cancer. So when I hear colleagues saying, ‘I don’t fully understand this but I trust the scientists,’ I think a note of caution and a healthier dose of scepticism might be in order. As I say, science is the ‘new sacred’. It offers a liturgy of delivery from suffering and the mystery of a better life. Peculiarly, we are told that it must replace what is now apparently the ‘old sacred’.

I had an odd experience a couple of months back when I was maligned in a national newspaper for my attitude to cloning and misrepresented as to my role in the debate. During that process, a journalist who deserves no mention in this lofty place put it to my media adviser that my personal faith provides a conflict of interest for me both as a senator and as a minister. I have never been quite sure what it means to ‘boggle’, but I think that this is one of those cases where the mind unquestionably boggles. We are asked to believe that the universities, individual scientists, biotechnology vehicles and drug companies who would patent this research have no conflict of interest and that economic returns are but a happy consequence and a market mechanism for good, yet belief in the goodness of God and man, and the presence of objective truth is a conflict of interest. The boggling is overwhelming.

In July this year, I had the honour to address a large gathering of Jewish Australians in Melbourne on the issue of the Australian media. In that speech, I asserted that we have a duty to:

... rescue the concept of moral truth from the dustbin of history into which post-modern moral relativism seeks to discard it. If we want to protect basic and fundamental universal human rights, and in so doing inoculate our democracy from the possibility of repeating the horrors of the Holocaust, or the Gulags, or Pol Pot’s Year Zero, we must remember that human rights rest on the foundation of moral absolutes.

We seem to be losing that memory and replacing it in so many areas of our society with a rhetoric of transactional good: the kind of ethical transaction which allows us to exchange one life for another and which we are asked to accept today.

Let me make it perfectly clear. I am certainly not going to draw comparisons between this proposal and those most hideous events of the 20th century, but it concerns me that when we substitute our desire for objective truth, even when that desire is to relieve suffering, we are straying from the underpinnings of our humanity. I am further concerned that the progress of this debate has seen not simply a departure from our core beliefs and values but also an open contempt for the traditions which delivered them to us.

In my address on the proposal earlier this year to legalise chemical abortifacients, which was an infinitely simpler proposition than this bill, I said that there was a dangerous implication from one group that only one side of the conscience debate was good conscience. The implication was that Christianity has become somehow incompatible with good conscience and that sympathy and opportunity are higher values. I called on the Senate at that time to never again accept denigration of Christian values as biased, baseless or ill informed. It will not surprise fellow senators to hear that I am consequently disappointed by aspects of this debate and the contempt shown for the Christian tradition both publicly and privately.

I would say this to you today. I understand that not everyone in this Senate is a Christian. Likewise, I recognise that the absence of personal faith does not preclude senators from voting honestly and without prejudice. And I accept that my faith will never be accepted by the acolytes of scientific curiosity as an appropriate barrier to their interests. But let me make this clear: our society is built on the foundations of Christianity, which have been handed down over the past 2,000 years, and the bedrock of Judaism, which fathered it. Whether or not one believes in the message of Christ, one should be willing to acknowledge and respect the guidance which Christianity has offered, and continues to offer, to our society. It is our strongest and most reliable guide as to what is good and just, it is our greatest historical reference point and it is our final protection against the excesses of either anarchy or excessive government.

For me, it is simply truth. But you do not need to accept that to recognise that there is a powerful correlation between faith and justice. In 412 AD, St Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, wrote a response to an inquiry from his friend the Christian Roman official Marcellinus on the subject of the compatibility of Christianity and politics. He wrote this:

... hearts of mortals nevertheless think that human affairs are prosperous when the splendour of buildings is attended to and the collapse of souls is not, when massive theatres are built up and the foundations of the virtues are undermined, when the insanity of extravagance is glorified and the works of mercy ridiculed ...

I think that that 1,600-year-old paragraph is instructive for us all, whether Liberal or Labor, Christian or not. It reminds us not simply that this world is temporary or that virtue and justice are most worthy goals but also that we should guard against making priorities of what is attractive rather than what is right. I will vote against this bill because I believe it is hasty, ill supported by evidence and offers a fundamentally unjust exchange of one life for another. I would commend all other senators to this perspective.

12:26 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My contribution is twofold. First, I wish to address a number of arguments and assertions made in the course of the debate and, secondly, I seek to summarise the major arguments against the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006. In short, this is a bill that seeks to legislate to create cloned human embryos for research and their destruction. Before proceeding, however, I seek leave to table a petitioning document that is not in conformity with the standing orders relating to petitions. This document contains 15,820 electronic signatures from all over Australia opposing human cloning, including therapeutic cloning.

Leave granted.

I turn first to some incorrect assertions in the debate. It has been suggested that attacks on the members of the Lockhart committee and their recommendations have been personal attacks. There have been serious and genuine critiques of the science, methodology and ethical paradigms employed by the Lockhart committee. A critique is not a personal attack. The angst expressed by supporters of the bill, claiming these attacks are personal, do a disservice to the genuine and legitimate critiques offered by esteemed members of the scientific community and others.

Professor Jack Martin, hailed by then Minister Bishop as one of Australia’s research giants when announcing his appointment to the Human Genetics Advisory Committee, has expressed publicly and repeatedly to the Senate committee that there is no proof of principle about the virtues of embryonic stem cell research. He has cited often, but it seems to have been ignored by many, the remarks of the Lockhart report at page 42:

... at this stage ES cell research has not reached the stage needed to start clinical trials (ie proof of principle of a safe and efficacious treatment in animal models).

This does not constitute an attack on the integrity of the members of the Lockhart review.

It has been stated in this chamber that to claim that this bill will promote further, more radical research, including reproductive cloning, is a reprehensible slur on the advocates of the bill. The sad facts are that the evidence from overseas, especially the UK—which is held up increasingly as the model to follow—confirms that the slippery slope is well greased. There is significant evidence in this regard. For example, Professor Julian Savulescu, of the Melbourne Oxford Stem Cell Collaboration research unit, has already been quoted. His article ‘Should we clone human beings? Cloning as a source of tissue for transplantation’ makes it very clear where this is heading. He gave similar evidence to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in 2000 and repeated the same basic line at the National Press Club last year.

Or there is this from University of Melbourne academic D Elsner, who published only late last month in the prestigious Journal of Medical Ethics a piece entitled ‘Just another reproductive technology? The ethics of human reproductive cloning as an experimental medical procedure’, where ‘reproductive cloning’ is promoted as simply ‘an experimental medical procedure’ and part of the armoury of reproductive technology, especially to produce ‘saviour siblings’.

Is this Senate to limit its considerations to an unquestioning acceptance of one committee? Surely not. It is critical on such a groundbreaking proposal which this bill represents, namely the creating of human life so that it can be destroyed in research—a bill which I would remind senators has not crossed the scientific threshold of proof of principle, on the admission of the Lockhart committee itself—that it be rigorously tested and critiqued.

I now turn to the bill and the arguments against it. If someone comes up to you and says: ‘We have this new process. It’s called somatic nuclear cell transfer. We’ll be able to use embryonic stem cells derived from this process to cure all sorts of things,’ then the average person would think: ‘Sure, that sounds impressive—fine, yes, we all want to help people with incurable diseases.’ But if someone comes up to you and says, ‘We want to create cloned human embryos, do research on them for up to 14 days and then get rid of them because it may, maybe in a couple of generations time, help us find cures for all sorts of things,’ then the answer would likely be different. At the very least, that person would ask: ‘Why?’ Fellow senators, this debate is about why. Why do we need to do this? And why do we need to do this now?

Supporters of this bill have followed the edict of the Ethics Committee of International Stem Cell Research when, back in 2004, they posted a statement recommending: instead of referring to cloning, use somatic nuclear cell transfer. This is misleading and intended purely to disguise that this is really about human cloning. No less relevantly, the US President’s Council on Bioethics devotes one whole chapter in the first of its three detailed reports—surprisingly, none of which were referenced by the Lockhart committee—to these definitions. It says that the relevant term should more correctly be described as follows: ‘reproductive cloning’ is ‘cloning to produce children’; ‘therapeutic cloning’ is ‘cloning for biomedical research’. The Lockhart review was able to cite the Indian Council of Medical Research’s draft guidelines for stem cell research, but none of the US President’s council’s three reports, in 2002, 2004 and 2005. Professor Skene told the inquiry that time precluded a comprehensive inquiry into relevant literature.

The other troubling aspect is the redefining of ‘embryo’. What is happening here is that the proponents of the bill are saying, on the one hand, the prohibition on reproductive cloning will remain but, on the other hand, they want to change the definition of embryo. In short, they are saying that an embryo is not an embryo for the first 14 days; therefore we can experiment on it and then dispose of it and still say we are not undertaking human cloning. The Australian public need to know, in simple terms, what is happening here. Professor Skene herself stated at the inquiry that a somatic cell nuclear transfer embryo is an embryo. She stated:

We did not shy away from calling it an embryo because it is conceivable, as happened with Dolly the sheep, that if that entity were put into a woman, after a lot of care, it could in fact develop into a foetus. So we did call it an embryo. We still regarded it, as many other people did who made submissions to us, as having a different moral status from the embryos that are created in fertility programs.

Indeed, the new definition recommended in the Lockhart report was not and has not been endorsed by the NHMRC. Hence, it is not only premature but misleading to rely on a definition which has not been endorsed.

This debate is not about the merits of adult stem cell research versus embryonic stem cell research—both are legal. This is about community standards and the dignity of legislation. We need to be sure that the Australian people are prepared to make the quantum leap of creating embryos for the scientific purpose of research and then destroying them—and only four years after this parliament comprehensively rejected it. Unless we can do so with certainty then we must oppose this bill.

The media has portrayed this issue as simply being about finding cures for debilitating diseases, when in fact the evidence before the inquiry suggested that such cures were extremely unlikely from cloning. Cloning raises complex scientific, medical and ethical issues. All are equally important. All deserve consideration. Over the course of this debate we have heard many impassioned speeches about this legislation. Having been a member of the Senate Community Affairs Committee and having been afforded the opportunity to read much of the material and to question all the witnesses who appeared before the inquiry, I am in no doubt that this legislation should be opposed. It crosses a scientific and ethical boundary that should not be crossed. Once crossed, we can never return. Once crossed, no parliamentarian will be able to withstand the next demand and the demands thereafter.

Before summarising the fundamental arguments against the bill, I wish to deal with the deterrence of penalties on research. It has been argued by the proponents of the bill that a 15-year jail term for placing a human embryo clone in a human body or body of an animal is or will be an effective deterrent. I would remind senators that penalties do not deter crime. Take these examples from New South Wales. Trafficking of commercial quantities of heroin and cocaine—at least 250 grams—carries a 20-year jail term, and for one kilogram or more, life. Robbery attracts 14 years, and if aggravated, 20 years. But people still traffic drugs and commit robberies. For greed, people will risk long terms of imprisonment. Many think they will not get caught and will take the risk. In the area of cloning we have already seen examples of fraud and unethical behaviour overseas. I would also remind senators that human or animal cloning is different to other crimes because, unlike robbery or, say, kidnapping, there is no victim and therefore no-one to report the crime. In the privacy of the laboratory, no guarantee can be given that such practices will not be undertaken.

Much has been made of science in this debate, but this is also a debate about money, intellectual property, patents and commercialisation in the biotech industry. There is invariably the potential for conflict of interest whenever researchers are themselves shareholders in biotech companies. This has not been adequately explored, nor declarations of interest sought from researchers, in this debate. The best and most laudable of motives can be coloured by the prospect of significant commercial gains, through intellectual property rights and the international biotech industry. Such was certainly the case with Professor Hwang in Korea.

There are, in my view, 10 basic reasons why the Senate should oppose this bill and I now summarise them. The first is the lack of proof concept. There is a lack of scientific evidence, including a lack of ‘proof of concept’ and a lack of any clinical trials regarding the potential benefits of human embryonic stem cell research, which I referred to earlier, that have been cited by senators in this debate.

The second goes to cancer and the cellular difference between adult versus embryonic stem cells. There are dangers, such as cancer formation, inherent in the research and clinical application of human embryonic stem cells. There was significant evidence from researchers of all scientific persuasions that embryonic stem cells, precisely because of their plasticity, remain so volatile as to have the propensity to produce teratomas.

Third, there is the fraudulent Korean research—part of the failure to reach the evidentiary threshold for change. The Lockhart review relied upon the published work of Korean researchers led by Professor Hwang, who claimed to have perfected human embryo cloning. That research was publicly retracted as fraudulent shortly after the Lockhart report was released last December. It has also been revealed that Professor Hwang pressured some of his female research assistants to ‘donate’ eggs for use in his research. The absence of reliable scientific evidence about cloning alone should be sufficient reason to reject any scientific basis for regime change.

The fourth reason goes to adult stem cell technology offering genuine cures. The significant number of clinical trials already underway around the world in relation to adult stem cells indicate that it is highly unlikely that SCNT—therapeutic cloning—will actually be necessary. The Senate inquiry received evidence that there are approximately 80 therapies currently in place in relation to adult stem cells. There are approximately 1,200 US Food and Drug Administration approved clinical trials. There are no clinical trials in relation to embryonic stem cells.

The fifth is that the commercial driver for change is assisted reproductive technology—and not medical cures—which, again, is part of the failure to reach the necessary threshold for change. Only a very small number of licences—nine—have been granted by the licensing committee since the establishment of the current regulatory regime established under the 2002 legislation. There have been an even smaller number of licences granted for research into human disease. Indeed, as the NHMRC advised the Senate inquiry, there is only one such licence, issued to IVF Australia, aimed at treating a specific condition.

The majority of licences issued—five—relate to artificial reproductive technology research. If human embryonic stem cells are so efficacious and safe, why so few licences, and why even fewer specifically for research into disease? Therefore, the Senate can legitimately ask why, for example, the Monash researchers, led by Professor Trounson, according to their submission to the inquiry, wish to conduct research into a very large number of medical conditions—yet there is just this one licence, issued to IVF Australia.

The point is simply that there is a significant disjuncture between what the researchers say they want under this bill and what they have done since the establishment of the current regulatory regime. They have not exactly beaten a path to the door of the licensing committee seeking to use some of the 104,000 excess ART embryos for research to rid the earth of any of the terrible diseases that afflict humanity.

The sixth reason relates to ethical boundaries. There is an ethical boundary, long-recognised in medical research codes, that would be crossed in legislating to allow the creation of cloned human life exclusively for the purpose of its being destroyed in the pursuit of knowledge. Medical research codes—from the Nuremberg Code in 1948, to the Declaration of Helsinki in 1964 and re-endorsed by the World Medical Association in 2000, to the Council of Europe’s 1997 Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, including its 1998 Additional Protocol on the Prohibition of Cloning Human Beings, to the 2005 UN declaration against cloning—all prohibit cloning.

The seventh reason relates to very important women’s issues. There are health risks to women in egg harvesting, as well as the risk of exploitation of women to gain access to more human eggs. The committee received evidence about the risks to women in two respects. First, there is the process of super-ovulation, requiring administration of drugs, prior to the medical procedure of the extraction of eggs. There are, of course, the risks associated with the medical procedure of the extraction of eggs in addition to the use of super-ovulants. Secondly, there are the risks associated with the demand for eggs for therapeutic cloning research—a point well made by Women’s Forum Australia at the hearing.

Proponents of the bill have claimed that opponents of the bill have been scaremongering and making outrageous claims. So let me note two things. The Lockhart report raises concerns about the availability of human eggs. At page 176 of the report it canvassed obtaining eggs from cadavers. But the bill goes further, in a most chilling manner, in an attempt to deal with the well-recognised shortage of eggs. Clause 23A expressly proposes the use of precursor cells from a human embryo or a human foetus. Such a proposal was canvassed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in the UK in 1994, but it was also the subject of a study at Monash University in 1994. It was entitled: ‘Proposed regulation in Victoria of the use of donated foetal ovarian tissue for assisted conception or my mother was an aborted foetus’. Such is the world opened up by this legislation.

No-one was prepared to advise the committee how many eggs would be required to conduct research for any medical condition. Researchers from Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories simply agreed that there were not enough eggs to do all the potential research that they wanted to do. It should be stated here that the Lockhart review also strongly recommended that there be interspecies fertilisation. In newspaper comment, Professor Schofield acknowledged that there was a significant ‘yuk’ factor in relation to the recommendation in favour of interspecies fertilisation.

The eighth reason is the MP Consulting report, which again is a summary of the failure to reach the necessary threshold for change. The independent MP Consulting report, prepared for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and released by the Prime Minister on 31 August 2006, found:

On each of these issues—

the definition of ‘human embryo’, the creation and use of embryos for assisted reproductive technology research and the creation of embryos for stem cell research—

there has not been any significant change in the state of play since 2002.

The ninth reason is the slippery slope. There is a risk that, just as those in the current debate have changed their mind from opposing therapeutic cloning in 2002 to promoting it in 2006, the current ban against reproductive cloning and on growing cloned embryos beyond 14 days could equally, in a few short years, be lifted because sections of the scientific community, using the same arguments advanced today, argue that it would facilitate the pursuit and accumulation of knowledge. It is being proposed that we now have a limit of 14 days. How will we reject a demand from science for the limit to move to 28 days or beyond?

The 10th reason is ethical issues—again, part of the argument of the failure to reach the evidentiary threshold for change. The complexity of issues, the speed of examination and the highly contested case—medically and ethically—that promotes change are not an adequate foundation to alter the current legislative framework. I submit that these reasons compel this parliament to oppose the bill.

12:46 pm

Photo of Kay PattersonKay Patterson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

in reply—I thank honourable senators for their contributions, and there will be no surprise that I will be supporting the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006. In 2002 I had carriage of the Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill and the Research Involving Embryos Bill through this place. I foreshadowed then that the legislation required that it be reviewed and I said:

If the review gives rise to possible amendments to the legislation, any such amendments must come before parliament, and at that time whoever is here will have the opportunity to consider in detail any proposed changes to the legislation.

I am bringing to the Senate for decision a bill that reflects the considered recommendations made by the Legislative Review Committee of those two bills.

Before I speak to the bill I want to clear up something which, until now, I have refrained from addressing. During my speech in the second reading debate for the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002 I made the following statement:

I believe strongly that it is wrong to create human embryos solely for research. It is not morally permissible to develop an embryo with the intent of truncating it at an early stage for the benefit of another human being.

It should be noted that this statement was not made in relation to the Prohibition of Human Cloning Act; it was made in the context of the creation of sperm-and-egg embryos for research, and this bill continues the prohibition of the creation of an embryo using a human egg and a human sperm, except for the purposes of assisted reproductive technology, or ART. I stand by that statement today as being consistent with asking you to vote in favour of this bill.

My statement has been used by some people to discredit this bill by implying that I have changed my mind about issues, but they have quoted me out of context, as I have just indicated. Secondly, even if it can be argued that I have changed my mind, the implication that changing one’s mind is somehow wrong is foreign to me. My mind remains open to learning new things, to considering carefully new points of view and to changing my position on issues where appropriate—something I will always reserve my right to do.

It is interesting that many of those against this bill base their objection to it on the status of an SCNT embryo being equal to that of an egg-sperm embryo. Although they are quite correct that under Australian law, according to the definition created in 2002, an entity created through the SCNT process is classified as an embryo—indeed, a human embryo—I wonder why no-one has mentioned that in 2001 the ProLife Alliance in the UK took the definition of an embryo to their high court to get a ruling that SCNT was not an embryo in an attempt to ensure SCNT research could not happen under their Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

Some might suggest that the sanctity of the status of the embryo is a negotiable commodity and will be sacrificed by those desperate to find ways to block SCNT research. I see a sperm-and-egg embryo as different from a skin cell that is cloned using an egg as an incubator. It is not a fertilised egg, it will never be permitted to develop beyond 14 days and it cannot be implanted in the body of a woman or animal. I consider that I am also amongst the majority of Australians, who are in favour of research using somatic cell nuclear transfer to help us better understand disease processes and hopefully find therapies for human suffering, so long as it is strictly regulated and that reproductive cloning remains prohibited.

I note that some of my colleagues believe that we have not had enough time to consider the issues. The issues contained in this bill have been on the table for around nine years. In that time our parliamentary colleagues in Britain have accepted this type of research. We have had five—not one, as we have just been told—formal inquiries, all of which unanimously recommended prohibition of the cloning of whole human beings and all of which acknowledged the varying views that existed in the community regarding the status of the human embryo. Neither the 1998 AHEC report, nor the 2001 Andrews report, nor the 2005 Lockhart report, nor indeed the recent 2006 Senate committee report on this bill recommended legislation prohibiting cloning of human cells for research. They were indicating that they should be subjected to regulation and regulatory processes.

The initial 1998 AHEC report predicted there would be confusion about the differences between therapeutic and reproductive cloning. Only a few weeks prior to AHEC handing down their report, two labs in the USA announced that they were able for the first time to derive embryonic stem cell lines from human blastocysts. This was significant for two reasons: firstly, it meant that there was potential to use donated surplus IVF embryos to acquire embryonic stem cells; and, secondly, if SCNT research could be applied to human cells then this could be potentially another source of embryonic stem cells. This also meant that therapeutic cloning had an additional meaning. So there was a slight shift in terminology and new things for the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to consider when they were asked to make legislative recommendations based on the AHEC report in 1999.

The 2001 Andrews House of Reps committee report states under recommendation 5, item 12.44:

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth regulate human cloning and stem cell research within the strict parameters outlined in paragraphs 12.41-12.43.

Item 12.42, while calling for a moratorium on their creation, recommends:

The creation of embryos by means of somatic cell nuclear transfer ... need not necessarily form part of the legislative ban on the deliberate creation of embryos.

Despite the Andrews report recommending SCNT research not be banned by law, the resultant bill put before the House in June 2002 did propose just that. However, the bills did allow for a review, the recommendations of which we are now considering in this bill.

Looking back, I think that somatic cell nuclear transfer as a source of embryonic stem cells became an unfortunate victim of the fear and confusion about what cloning meant. While the Andrews report recommended a moratorium on licensing SCNT research, I think somehow it got caught up in the quest to prohibit reproductive cloning. Meanwhile, SCNT research has been allowed in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore and Sweden, and we have been left behind.

The fourth inquiry was, of course, the Lockhart review. This time, although still complex, the issues were clearer because embryonic stem cell research using excess ART embryos was permitted and there was no doubt about the prohibition of reproductive cloning. The main focus was whether SCNT research should be allowed. The Lockhart committee recommended it should only be permitted in the setting of strict regulatory control. Of course, the majority of the fifth inquiry, by the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, endorsed the findings of the Lockhart committee.

I want to address some specific issues that have emerged as furphies in the arguments against this bill. There is no evidence of a slippery slope. Cloning of whole human beings will continue to be strictly prohibited. Let me repeat that: cloning of human beings will continue to be strictly prohibited. From some of the stuff we have seen in the newspaper and some of the claims that we have heard around the debate of this bill, you would not be aware, nor would you believe, that the legislation continues to prohibit the cloning of whole human beings. Allowing SCNT research, as the bill prescribes, does not take us down that path. The safeguards are the 14-day development limit on SCNT embryos and prohibition of implantation as well as incarceration for up to 15 years for anyone who attempts to break this law.

Some antagonists of the bill have cited a lack of proof of concept as being reason to legislate against SCNT. This is not a scientific argument in this case but, I believe, a thin veil, albeit maybe subconscious, for people who have a moral objection to the research. While SCNT research in humans has not produced embryonic stem cell lines, given the success in animal models this is no reason to ban it. The proof of concept exists. In the words of Professor Martin Pera in response to a question during the Melbourne Senate hearing:

... with respect to the statement that there are no—

and I insert ‘human’ here because that is what he was talking about—

therapies from cloned embryonic stem cells, of course there are not because research has not been done on a human yet that would enable it. However, there is proof of concept in animal studies that you can treat disease with such an approach.

Some claim that embryonic stem cells cause cancer and so the research should cease. Only those who do not understand the science or those deliberately trying to muddy the waters will claim this. Although embryonic stem cells in their primitive state might form teratomas if injected into a person, these people choose to ignore the fact that human clinical trials must conform to recognised safety protocols and pass ethics committees. Secondly, potential therapies developed from these cell types would come from directing them to differentiate into more specialised cells or tissue, giving them the same risk as those derived from adult stem cells. People also forget that even treatments like kidney transplants result in high incidences of cancer in people. There are some treatments in which the benefits sometimes outweigh the associated problems. As I said, these cells will be differentiated into more specialised cells and there are also risks in implanting adult stem cells.

Contrary to claims that there has been no progress since 2002, ample evidence was provided to the Senate committee, and only as recently as mid-October—the very time we were having the hearings—D’Amour et al reported that they had directed human embryonic stem cells to become insulin-producing pancreatic cells. Finally, many opponents fail to accept that it is not only development of therapies for which embryonic stem cell research is needed; they are essential for the elucidation of our limited understanding of early cell differentiation and disease processes.

Some claim embryonic stem cell research is not needed because adult stem cells can provide all the answers. This is not true, but one advantage of adult stem cells is that their use is not weighed down by the same strong differences of opinion. Scientifically we need them both. It is not a competition, as one of my colleagues suggested. We need both embryonic stem cells derived from surplus IVF embryos as well as SCNT and adult stem cells. Adult stem cells are restricted in their scientific use, as the committee report explains, and the claims attributed to Dr David Prentice of 65 diseases being cured by adult stem cells have been seriously challenged in respected journals.

It is vital we pursue SCNT as a source of human embryonic stem cells as it offers a significant advantage over ART embryo derived stem cells in the ability to create disease specific stem cell lines. By taking a cell from an adult with a particular known genetic disease and producing stem cell lines via SCNT, we could have an array of particular cells with known defects. Scientists could research or test drugs on those diseased cells, so hastening the process of understanding and possibly finding therapies for those diseases.

Legitimate concern has been raised about the potential for exploitation of women with regard to egg donations needed in relation to SCNT technology. I believe that the proposed legislation covers this in a number of ways—for example, through banning commercial trade in eggs and through the normal protocols that exist for ova donation and surgical procedures, which adequately cover informed consent. During the Senate committee hearings, several of my colleagues were incensed, as I was, at the implication that women were not capable of informed consent in such a matter. Have we forgotten that women already donate ova for ART either to someone they know or anonymously—it is quite pertinent that we were having that discussion today—and that for this to be achieved ethical consent is covered in the AHEC guidelines? It seems women may be capable of deciding to donate bone marrow or a kidney, both of which have attendant risks, but not ova. Somehow, when it comes to donating our ova, we lose our minds, but we can donate kidneys, bone marrow and other tissue.

In addition it must be noted that, during the Senate committee hearings, researchers emphasised the long-term aim of producing embryonic stem cell lines from somatic cells without the need to use ova and the need to be able to undertake basic human embryo and SCNT research to achieve this goal. I believe that the community attitude to SCNT is clear. Valid surveys show that reproductive cloning is unacceptable and the majority of the community accept that SCNT research is worthy of pursuit. Naturally, this should only occur under strict regulatory control, as proposed in this bill.

Some believe that this bill will take us into Huxley’s Brave New World. But, given the imagery of scary animal-human hybrids, rabbit-people, human cows and all the other things that have been suggested while we have been debating this bill—the sorts of scary images that people are using—maybe they would rather take us back 200 years, when similar fear tactics were used, as Senator Brown has indicated, to ridicule Edward Jenner’s cowpox vaccine against smallpox. In 1798, some tried to generate fear in the public arena that, if used, Jenner’s vaccine would cause people to grow the horns and tail of a cow. Critics warned that ‘transmitting disease from a “brute creature” to human beings was a loathsome, dangerous, and immoral act’. Far from this happening, Jenner’s vaccine proved to be one of the most effective public health instruments of our time. I wish I could be here in 40 years time so that I could look back and see what some of this research will have proved, but I do not think I am going to be able to achieve that.

Some of my colleagues are saying that we have not had enough time to consider the changes this bill proposes to the law. Let us be quite clear: we have been considering these issues since 1998. We have had five formal inquiries—and other countries have accepted the sorts of changes proposed in this bill in the meantime—and we have had the Lockhart committee report to consider for close on a year.

I would like you to remember, as you make your decision on the recommendations of the Lockhart review as reflected in this bill, that this is not a decision about politics. It is about people. It is about hope and it is about trust. A vote against this bill will be a vote to dash the hope that is dearly held by those people watching and listening to us who have medical conditions and who expect nothing from this research for themselves but know that in their cells they have a possible key to understanding their disease which may provide a legacy for future generations of people with this or similar diseases. Why should we restrict their hopes?

A vote against this bill sends a message of no confidence to all those esteemed Australians who sit on expert committees and give their time to assist us in this place to understand complex issues and oversee regulations and protocols to keep Australians safe. Those who cast doubt on the standing of the Lockhart committee also cast doubt on all such committees and on the proper process of this place. The Lockhart committee was properly constituted as prescribed in the acts, and its members discharged their duty with integrity and sensitivity.

A vote against this bill tells young, eager, scientific minds that Australia does not trust them. Senator Fierravanti-Wells indicated that they would be in the dark of night in laboratories, doing terrible things. They can do that if there is no law. They can do that now. What we are saying is, ‘We trust you, but we think there should be boundaries around that trust.’ To say that we do not trust our young scientists gives them the message that our regulatory instruments cannot be relied upon to protect us from unethical behaviour. This bill prescribes harsh jail sentences for offenders, as well as measures for regulatory oversight to ensure accountable and transparent practices in laboratory research.

A vote against this bill sends a message to those with minority views that proper process is irrelevant and facts do not matter. It illustrates to any minority that they can get their way if they have loud enough voices, use enough scary images and can buy enough advertising space. It sends a message that we are not interested in the majority view and can be influenced by undue minority pressure. I believe that with this proposed legislation there is no threat of cloned people, rabbit-men or slippery slopes and that those who speak of hype are in fact themselves guilty of promulgating hype and hyperbole.

A vote for this bill displays trust in the robust nature of this nation’s regulatory systems to allow cautious scientific advancement for the betterment of people. It shows that we make laws based on fact, not on superstition. When—and I predict that it will be when, not if—a treatment or medication is developed using SCNT or knowledge gained from SCNT research in the US, the UK or somewhere else, who in this place, and some of you may still be here, will be the first to legislate to prevent it being used by Australians because it was based on what some—incorrectly, in my opinion—describe as repugnant, immoral research?

Would we have preferred Jenner not to have tested his cowpox vaccine because doing so was a ‘loathsome, dangerous and immoral act’, knowing what we know now—that this dreadful disease has been eradicated? In the 1970s, when for the first time insulin-producing cells were injected into a diabetic mouse, would it have been wrong to give a young type 1 diabetes patient hope that people like him or her in 30 years might be able to have insulin-producing cells from a cadaver pancreas injected which would free them from a regime of testing and needles? I think the answer is no. Is it now wrong to give a young patient with type 1 diabetes, like the children who visited us in the house last week, hope that the knowledge gained from all types of stem cell research—adult, embryo and SCNT—may in due course provide a treatment that could free them from the grind of the insulin regime or, if they had an islet transplant, the burden of antirejection drugs for the rest of their lives? Again, I believe the answer is no. The Andrews report did not recommend legislation to prohibit SCNT research, nor did the Lockhart review, and neither should we.

Question put:

That this bill be now read a second time.