This week, the Senate sits primarily to debate the private members bill promoted by Senator Kay Patterson(Lib) and supported in kind by Senators Natasha Stott-Despoya (Dem) and Ruth Webber (ALP). The Bill, Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006, offers much hope for suffers of genetic disease, but poses deeply divisive ethical questions.
The Stott-Despoya-Webber exposure draft – to be found here, gives some important background scientific substantiation and support for the proposal to adopt the recommendations of the Lockhart Review. The Lockhart Review contains some 54 recommendations in regard to the relaxation of the prohibition of human somatic cell nuclear transfer, commonly called somewhat erroneously ‘cloning’. Probably the most contentious of these recommendations would be recommandations #23 and 24. To wit:
Recommendations — use of human embryos created by somatic cell nuclear
23. Human somatic cell nuclear transfer should be permitted, under licence, to create and use
human embryo clones for research, training and clinical application, including the production
of human embryonic stem cells, as long as the activity satisfies all the criteria outlined in the
amended Act and these embryos are not implanted into the body of a woman or allowed to
develop for more than 14 days.
24. In order to reduce the need for human oocytes, transfer of human somatic cell nuclei into
animal oocytes should be allowed, under licence, for the creation and use of human embryo
clones for research, training and clinical application, including the production of human
embryonic stem cells, as long as the activity satisfies all the criteria outlined in the amended
Act and these embryos are not implanted into the body of a woman or allowed to develop for more than 14 days
The debate in the Senate, which is ongoing as I write, gives every impression of being much closer than the last conscience vote permitted by all political parties. Thus far, in the first two hours, I’ve listened to slightly more ‘Nay’ opinions than ‘Yea’ opinions. The nay-sayers all appear, at least thus far at least, appear to have been spooked by the inadequate terminology of ‘human cloning’ or ’embryonic cloning’. Cloning seems to infer to some the creation of identical life, intelligent, walking, talking identical copies of existing human beings. Nothing could be further from the facts.
I would strongly recommend all those who express a view one way or another on the subject, to bone up on the science behind the recommendations of the Lockhart Review Committee. Understand why those recommendations, especially 23 and 24, have been made. This is a scientific issue and most definitely not a theological one. It is not one of split hairs over what is or is not defined by the term, embryo. Above all else, this issue is one of individual choice to be involved in the advancement of medical science and the understanding of human biology, not to mention the potential advancements into disease eradication and enhancement of human life as we understand it.
I support the ethos of opening up somatic cell nuclear transfer to further scientific research as recommended by the Lockhart Review. I will be watching closely the outcomes of the Senate debate and ultimate conscience vote.