Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.
Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.
This is not a religious debate and it is certainly not, as some would have it, an argument
between science and superstition. The debate on the Prohibition of Human Cloning for
Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006 is based
solely on ethics and the recognition of basic human values. From the outset can I say that I
firmly believe we cannot seek to alleviate the suffering of some by creating and then
destroying another human life. This is not a concept foreign to many members of this place, as
it was central to the debate concerning two bills before this parliament in 2002, namely the
Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002 and the Research Involving Human Embryos Bill 2002.
As the matter of cloning of human embryos was comprehensively dealt with by this parliament
at that stage, which resulted in a unanimous position of banning human cloning, I would assert
that it now falls to the proponents of this bill to demonstrate what has changed since last time
this matter was considered by the parliament. In 2002 Senator Patterson, in summing up her
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
I could not agree more. I think the then minister’s strong statement clearly sets out the ethical
position held by this parliament four years ago. The Australian parliament rejected human
cloning. In doing so, Australia effectively joined with 30 other nations in banning human
cloning on ethical grounds. As this was the position only four years ago, I think we are entitled
to ask: what has changed to cause us to reconsider that decision? It seems to me that the only
thing that has changed since 2002 is the review that was provided for in this legislation,
namely, the Lockhart review. I am sure that, in establishing that review, it was not the
intention of the parliament to create an escape mechanism by which it could abrogate its
responsibilities for ethics to a committee. The issues paper, circulated by the Lockhart
committee in August 2005, stated:
It is not the purpose of the reviews to revisit underpinning community debate and rationale for two Acts. Rather, the
purpose is to review the Acts in the light of any changes in scientific or community understanding or standards since
2002, and any indications that the provisions are no longer appropriate and/or practical in their application.
Notwithstanding that the Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill and the Research Involving Human
Embryos Bill were supported and unanimously passed by this parliament, we now have a bill
before us which seeks to reverse that decision.
In passing the legislation, the parliament clearly and decisively set a course of banning the
creation of human embryos for the purpose of experimentation other than in relation to
surplus eggs in the IVF program destined for destruction. It was within this strict regulatory
regime that limited permission was granted for research on eggs provided by women in the
IVF program which were no longer required and were destined for destruction. It now seems
that some would like to rely on this proposition: if research on surplus IVF eggs is permissible,
then why not do research on any embryo provided that it is for the purpose of bona fide
scientific research and not implantation?
It would appear that the Lockhart committee has relied on this qualified exemption in respect
of surplus IVF eggs to unravel the underpinning proposition of the 2002 legislation. The
committee attempts to draw a distinction between the moral status of human embryos based
on how and why the embryo was created. According to the committee, an embryo created for
the intention of reproduction is seen differently to one created for experimentation and
destruction during scientific research. In fact the committee said:
... while it was difficult to logically define a moral difference between embryos formed by fertilisation and those
formed by nuclear transfer or related methods, it appeared that embryos formed by fertilisation of eggs by sperm may
have a different social or relational significance from embryos formed by nuclear transfer.
It is this distinction that forms the basis of the committee’s recommendation to permit
experimentation on any embryo provided that it does not have a social or relationship
significance. What I struggle with is that in four years we have come from a position of
banning human embryo cloning to now considering whether to permit scientific research and
experimentation which as a consequence permits the creation of human embryos.
The 45 recommendations made by the Lockhart committee included allowing the creation of
embryos by SCNT, utilising female eggs and/or, in the case of hybrids, an animal egg provided
that it is not be implanted in a woman or allowed to develop beyond 14 days. While the
creation of hybrid embryos has been removed from this bill, this has not removed the problem
of having a limited supply of embryos. That was the stated vision for the hybrids’ inclusion in
the first place. I am concerned that the limited supply of eggs may be overcome through the
creation of markets aimed at increasing the supply and consequently creating unwanted or
unintended social consequences. The inquiry heard from Katrina George, director of the
Womens Forum, of the difficulties faced in other countries in securing the necessary supply of
human eggs without providing women with commercial incentives. As I understand it, some
women in the UK are being offered discounts on the IVF program should they decide to donate
eggs for research. The argument of the Womens Forum is that if egg donation is open to
commercial incentives women, and presumably women from lower socioeconomic
backgrounds, may be more likely to be exposed to coercive practices or, at worst, exploitation.
I know that such outcomes are not intended by those supporting the expansion of the use of
cloning for medical research, but they are something that I am certainly cognisant of. In any
event, the question remains: what has changed in four years to warrant a reversal of the
parliament’s decision to ban the cloning of human embryos? That is exactly what an
independent scientific consulting group was engaged to assess and advise the cabinet on. After
reviewing the Lockhart report, Matthews Pegg concluded that little if anything had changed
that would warrant a change in the existing legislation. They were not alone in that view of
questioning the benefits of embryonic stem cell research. Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filippini is quoted
in the parliamentary committee report as saying:
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.
Like many members in this place, I took the opportunity to meet James Sherley, Associate
Professor of Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, when he recently visited Canberra. If anything, this man was accusing many in the debate, including
me, of letting the scientific proponents of embryonic stem cell research get away with not
having to justify their optimism about the likely therapeutic outcomes from this research. In an
article published in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, Sherley argues:
In order for promised hESC-based therapies to be successful, first hESCs must be converted into adult stem cells.
He goes on to conclude:
So, why destroy human life ... when the essential barrier to effective cell therapies is the need for more research to
understand adult stem cells? Adult stem cells can be obtained from informed consenting adults, and they already have
examples of successful cell therapies.
Unfortunately, as we approach this debate, very few people seem to distinguish or, in many
cases, understand the essential differences in the various disciplines associated with stem cell
research. Many mistakenly attribute the advances in stem cell research to embryonic stem cell
development when in fact to date the most significant developments have occurred through
adult stem cell research. Adult stem cell research has shown promise in treating a range of
conditions including Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, blood diseases and heart damage.
Indeed, improvements in bone marrow transplantation are a very real example of what is
currently available and developed through adult stem cell therapy.
Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, director of the Eskitis Institute of Cell and Molecular Therapies at
Griffith University, has strongly advocated that adult stem cell research is an ethical alternative
to human embryo cloning. He says it is probable that such adult stem cell lines will render
therapeutic cloning irrelevant and impractical. Similarly, considerable advances have been
made in therapies involving neonatal or umbilical cord blood stem cells, as I understand it. To
date patients suffering with various diseases are being treated with stem cell based therapies
from cord blood. Stem cells from cord blood are laying a very strong foundation in terms of
rejuvenative medicine. Only last week it was reported in the UK that researchers at the
University of Newcastle had successfully grown mini livers capable of being used to test new
drugs and, in the future, providing life-saving treatments to patients in need of liver
transplants. Again, while an important field of stem cell research, this does not cross the
I appreciate the reality that there are strong competing views between various scientific
disciplines. I also appreciate the commercial reality of attracting and retaining funds within the
respective research institutions of this nation. To some extent, one of the grounds being relied
upon to support embryonic stem cell research is to allow Australia to stay in a competitive
position with international research. It is argued that not to allow cloning would place this
country at a competitive disadvantage to other world players in the quest to develop therapies
for various diseases. If this is the intention behind the bill, I wonder whether this is the ethical
thin edge of the wedge when it comes to the cloning debate.
While the position of the bill is clear, in that human cloned cells cannot be allowed to develop
beyond 14 days, I wonder what our position would be if scientists in other parts of the world
were to report greater benefits from having an embryo reach 28 days. Our scientists may
again feel that they are being left behind in research or are at a competitive disadvantage if
they do not follow. If we were to allow that, why would we not consider the scientific
advantage of allowing research up to the early stage of foetal development? After all, some
have already speculated about the prospects of this development in organ replacement
therapies. Will we maintain the position that anything beyond 14 days is unethical and
therefore unacceptable, regardless of reason? If we take this step, can we really say, ‘This far
and no further,’ or have we already crossed the ethical divide?
In passing this bill, I believe that we will have already crossed the ethical threshold. Only four
years ago this parliament took a position based on ethical considerations to ban human cloning of embryos, and today we are debating whether to allow cloning, provided the embryo is
destroyed within 14 days. I strongly assert that passing this bill will compromise our position
on ethically based research.
With such a fundamental change in the 2002 position, you might expect to see some clear
evidence that, without this change, it will be to the overall disadvantage of humanity. At least
you would expect to see some evidence of significant developments in scientific research to
justify more permissive legislation, particularly when such serious ethical issues are at stake.
But no: we are being asked to pass this bill without the slightest indication that there is any
real prospect of successful therapies emerging. In fact, we are yet to see any reason for
optimism based on the clinical work performed on animals. Despite this, we have people
speculating on a range of therapies likely to result from embryonic stem cell research. I agree
with Professor Sherley’s caution in this regard. As he says, researchers:
must take care that they do not take advantage of the hopes and fears of people who yearn so desperately for cures
that they will regretfully overlook their own moral objections.
Professor Jack Martin, in his submission to the Lockhart review, said:
The potential benefits of treatment of diseases with human ES cells have been greatly exaggerated, with many of the
suggested cures only long term possibilities and some not even remotely possible.
No member in this debate is against scientific research being undertaken for the betterment of
humanity. However, it should not be based on some lofty aims or some speculative hope but
on a very clear indication of the consequences of the research if it is to lay any challenge to
our notion of ethical standards, which was so aptly summarised for this parliament in 2002 by
In delivering the 2006 Thomas Moore lecture, the noted ethicist and human rights lawyer,
Father Frank Brennan, said on the status of human embryos:
Some, including many scientists, think that an embryo should be accorded some special “human” status only if it be
created by the union of an egg and sperm, be more than 14 days old, and be intended by its “creators” for
implantation in a womb. Others think that an embryo should be accorded special respect from the moment of creation
regardless of means, intention or age.
I fall into the latter category, and I oppose this bill.