Australia Lawmakers Begin Debate on Ditching Human Cloning Ban

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

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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
November 30
, 2006

Canberra, Australia (LifeNews.com) — Members of the House of Representatives in Australia’s parliament began debate Thursday on a measure that would scrap the nation’s ban on all forms of human cloning. The proposal would allow human cloning for research purposes so scientists could clone and kill human embryos for their stem cells.

Thirteen legislators gave speeches on Monday with most of them supporting lifting the human cloning ban.

They claim it will lead to cures for patients, even though embryonic stem cell research has yet to help a single patient and still faces significant hurdles in animal research.

The Australia Senate passed the pro-cloning measure earlier this month on a 34-32 vote and the House vote is expected to be close as well, though observers expect it to be approved.

During the debate, Independent lawmaker Peter Andren said research on adult stem cells was showing more promise and has actually been used to treat patients with dozens of diseases or medical conditions.

He said he feared the legislation would wind up exploiting women to get their eggs for research and would lead to the destruction of hundreds of human lives.

"This is about creating life in order to dismantle it," Andren said. "In rejecting this bill, I urge us all to follow the only ethical path, that of adult stem cell research."

Prime Minister John Howard, who is allowing a conscience vote, rather than a party line vote on the bill, has not said how he will vote on the measure.

After the first four hours of debate, 13 MPs spoke in support of the bill while six opposed it.

Polls show Australians having a mixed position on the debate.

The polling firm Research Australia released the results last week of a survey it conducted on the Internet and claims 58 percent of Australians back human cloning for research. The survey included 802 participants.

If the results are authentic, the survey still indicates a drop of 14 percent from the last online poll the firm conducted showing 72 percent backing human cloning.

The new survey claims that just 20 percent of Australians oppose research cloning while the rest are undecided.

The results of the online poll differ greatly from an August survey showing a majority of Australians oppose human cloning.

That survey of 1,200 people, 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 new survey also shows that two-thirds of those polled believe that the use of adult stem cells for research is just as effective as using embryonic cells.

But the August poll found ten times more Australians prefer adult stem cell research to studies involving embryonic stem cells.

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, according to the August poll. 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.