Australia Senate Committee Endorses Bill to Legalize Human Cloning

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 30, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
October 30
, 2006

Canberra, Australia ( — The Australian parliament has taken its first step towards approving a measure that would overturn the country’s ban on all forms of human cloning. A Senate committee recommended that the full Senate approve a measure that would make Australia one of the few places where human cloning for research is allowed.

The Senate committee examined the Lockhart review, commissioner by a former lawmaker, which suggested that the nation legalize human cloning. They also reviewed two pro-cloning bills.

The committee ultimately suggested that MPs vote in favor of the pro-cloning measure sponsored by Liberal senator and former health minister Kay Patterson. The nation’s parliament is expected to vote next month.

Patterson told the Herald Sun newspaper that legislators won’t likely be persuaded by the committee’s recommendation but said it would help them determine how they want to vote.

“I think they will look at the submission and look at the report as part of their decision making,” she said.

Prime Minister John Howard has said that MPs will be free to vote their conscience on the bill and will not be required to support a party line.

The parliament has set aside 36 hours for debate on the measure, which begins next week. A vote is expected at the end of the week.

Earlier this month, Catholic church leaders spoke up against the bill and they said such a measure would cheapen respect for human life and would promote "dangerous and perverse" experiments.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said human cloning would foster views of human life as expendable both in research applications and other situations.

In late August, a new report commissioned by the Australian government found that human cloning is not necessary for scientific research. The report indicated that there has been no scientific progress using human cloning to advance science in the last three years since parliament voted for a human cloning ban.

Commenting on the report, Australians for Ethical Stem Cell Research spokesman Dr. David van Gend said the report showed a previous review by the Lockhart commission was "based on their own ethical prejudice and their unsubstantiated wish list of what cloning might achieve."

An August poll shows Australians oppose human cloning and ten times more Australians prefer adult stem cell research to studies involving embryonic stem cells.

The survey, conducted by Sexton Marketing, found 51 percent of Australians opposed human cloning, 30 percent supported it and 12 percent had no opinion on the issue.

The survey of 1,200 people also found that 90 percent of those polled were aware of stem cell research.

Assuming each type of research brought equal benefits to patients, 40 percent preferred using adult stem cells and just 4 percent preferred using embryonic stem cell research. Some 51 percent had no preference.

The Sexton poll also found that 48 percent of those surveyed would change the way they vote in the next election depending on how their local MPs stood on the issue of human cloning.

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.