Australia’s Flip Flop to Support Human Cloning Ban Draws Criticism

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 22, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Australia’s Flip Flop to Support Human Cloning Ban Draws Criticism Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 22, 2004

Canberra, Australia ( — The decision by the Australian government last week to change its position and support a ban on all forms of human cloning at the United Nations has some politicians upset that the government is putting roadblocks in front of scientific research.

The government of recently re-elected Prime Minister John Howard quietly changed its position to support a coalition of 60 nations, led by the United States and Costa Rica, seeking to get the UN to adopt a treaty banning all human cloning.

The treaty would also prohibit the use of cloning to create and kill human embryos for their stem cells for research.

In 2003, Australia opposed the treaty and supported a competing proposal pushed by a Belgium and a smaller group of nations to allow human cloning for research.

Michael Bliss, director of the International Law and Transnational Crime Section, confirmed the change to The Australian newspaper.

"The Government had decided that Australia would co-sponsor the draft Costa Rican resolution on human cloning at this year’s United Nations General Assembly."

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia was just taking a stand backing up national law currently prohibiting all forms of cloning.

"We’re just upholding Australian law and this sort of conspiracy theory that somebody has lurched in from the far right of some church or something and told us that we should change our position, and we decided to respond to that, is just complete nonsense," he told ABC radio.

The move has been condemned by scientists who back the grisly practice.

Australian head of international biotech firm Stem Cell Sciences David Newton said it was "just unbelievable" that the government would change its position.

The quiet change has also angered NSW Labor Premier Bob Carr, who backs human cloning, and federal Labor science spokeswoman Jenny Macklin.

"The Howard Government should not be making such radically significant decisions behind closed doors," she told the Australian.

The change comes as the island nation is expected to review a three year old law that prohibits the use of human cloning for research ends. The Australian parliament is expected to review the law and some lawmakers want to scrap it in favor of a law allowing human cloning for research.

Health Minister Tony Abbott, an opponent of therapeutic cloning, is expected to guide the review process.

The United Nations on Friday essentially postponed a final decision on the issue of human cloning in favor of taking three months to iron out a last-minute declaration from Italy that would encourage the world to ban the grisly practice.