by Steven Ertelt
August 15, 2006
Canberra, Australia (LifeNews.com) — Australia Prime Minister John Howard has reversed himself on whether or not to allow a free vote on the issue of human cloning. Previously Howard said no free vote would be taken and that the government would retain its position against all forms of human cloning. But, under intense pressure, Howard has changed his mind.
Howard has been lobbied heavily by members of the Australian parliament who want to allow human cloning for research purposes.
They think that cloning to create human embryos to specifically destroy for studies will advance embryonic stem cell research.
Howard told a meeting of MPs that make up the governing coalition that he would allow a free vote only if a bill on the topic reached parliament. Still, the government would not sponsor the legislation.
Democrats senator Natasha Stott Despoja is working on a private members bill to legalize human cloning for research but it won’t be ready until October, according to the Herald Sun newspaper.
Primate member’s bills normally do not get a vote but Howard’s reversal indicates it’s more likely Despoja’s bill, which has sponsors from various political parties, would get one. If it does, MPs would be allowed to vote their conscience rather than support the party line.
"If there was a private member’s Bill, the Government would not act in any way to prevent it being debated in the Parliament," Howard said, according to the Herald Sun.
"Although many colleagues are opposed to another free vote, the range of view in the two parties was such that the tradition of allowing a free vote should be offered," Howard added.
South Australian Liberal senator Jeannie Ferris predicted the bill may get strong support and pass through the parliament.
"I think there’s quite a lot of support for this already from some surprising quarters," Senator Ferris said.
However, Tasmanian Liberal Guy Barnett said there was no reason to use human cloning and destroy human life.
"Cloning, is cloning is cloning," Senator Barnett said. "All individuals are created unique and it goes against the natural laws of man."
NSW Liberal Alby Schultz said he opposed embryonic stem cell research and that research using adult stem cells was more likely to produce cures for patients.
Previously, Health Minister Tony Abbott argued there have been no scientific breakthroughs due to human cloning that warrants lifting the ban on the grisly practice.
Abbott also pointed to the vast number of ethical problems associated with the embryonic stem cell research scandal in South Korea. The scandal saw scientists completely fabricate the results of their embryonic stem cell research and they claimed to have cloned a human embryo and embryonic cells, but were found to have lied about it.
Australia was criticized in November 2004 for changing its position to support a U.S.-backed proposal at the United Nations calling for a ban on all forms of human cloning. Prime Minister John Howard’s government quietly changed its position to support a coalition of 60 nations, led by the United States and Costa Rica.
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.