Australia Debate on Legalizing Human Cloning Begins, Loss Expected

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 6, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Australia Debate on Legalizing Human Cloning Begins, Loss Expected Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 6
, 2006

Canberra, Australia ( — The Australian parliament began debate Monday on legislation that would allow human cloning there for research purposes. Political observers say the nation’s current ban on human cloning looks like it will fall as undecided lawmakers say they will vote for the measure.

The debate o the bill put forward by Liberal Senator Kay Patterson is expected to last through the week with a vote taken on Friday.

During the first day of the debate, Victorian Liberal Mitch Fifield indicated he would oppose the proposal to rescind the human cloning ban and Greens Senator Kerry Nettle is pushing for an amendment to the bill to create a national embryonic stem cell bank.

Prime Minister John Howard represented the position of many MPs when he said he wasn’t sure how he would vote on the human cloning bill.

"I am wrestling with this issue," he said, according to a report in the Courier Mail newspaper.

"On the one hand, I want to do everything possible to help relieve suffering and leave open the hope of cures for terrible debilitating illnesses," Howard explained. "On the other hand, I do have concerns that this may, in some areas, be a step too far and I am still weighing the matter."

The first speaker during the debate, Labor Senator Ruth Webber, supported the bill but Queensland’s Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce said he opposed the bill because it would put science in the path of destroying human life for research.

Tasmanian Liberal Guy Barnett, a type one diabetic whose father died of motor neurone disease, also opposed the bill and said creating human beings is simply not acceptable.

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.

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.