May 3rd 2003


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Why Crean's departure won't rescue Labor

EDITORIAL: Slash and burn for Australian textile industry

AGRICULTURE: Murray Darling farmers could lose 30% of water allocations

Will Alston repeat Keating's mistakes on media ownership?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The thieves of Baghdad ... and Melbourne / Veritas / Shadow of Khomeini

COMMENT: Allowing nature to take its course is not euthanasia

HEALTH: How 'safe sex' misinformation puts young lives at risk

LETTERS: Nationals policy wrong (letter)

FAMILY: Men and marriage: rising inequality linked to falling fertility

DOCUMENTATION: Ethanol benefits become important public health issue

BIOETHICS: Do No Harm's major role in stem cell debate

Queensland National Party moves to stop sugar deregulation

BOOKS: Power Politics, edited by John Spoehr

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BIOETHICS:
Do No Harm's major role in stem cell debate


by Jane Munro

News Weekly, May 3, 2003
C.S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man ...."For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please." Isn't that just what is happening? Some scientists are busy making someone else to their specifications, someone else who will bear the burden of their mistakes, someone else who will bear the emotional pain, someone else who will carry the psychological trauma for life.

The last twelve months have seen a huge increase in research into cloning. Public interest has led to more information presented in newspapers, but unfortunately not all the information has been honest, so public debate has been stifled.

Credit

The Do No Harm campaign should take the credit for The Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002. The original legislation was split by the House of Representatives into two bills.

This bill was passed unanimously by the Senate. The United Kingdom permits human cloning for research and in the United States an anti-cloning bill has been blocked by the Democrats in their Senate, which shows the success of our campaign.

Unfortunately the other bill, The Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002, was passed by the Senate on December 5. Senator Harradine moved an amendment before it was passed to have it renamed "Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002."

One of the defeated amendments gave an indication of the direction in which research will now proceed. Prohibition of the use of live human embryos in the testing and manufacture of pharmaceutical and cosmetic products was defeated, but to make this situation worse, products would not have to be labelled with such information.

Ironic isn't it? All genetically modified crops have to labelled for consumers' choice, but those of us who have a conscientious objection to using pharmaceutical products tested on live human embryos or human embryonic stem cells, obviously derived from human embryos, will be placed in the difficult position of not being able to obtain this information.

The Do No Harm campaign brought together a broad coalition of religious groups and other interested parties, and was responsible for honest information being given the public to counteract the blatant bias or inexcusable ignorance of press reports.

The next major battlefield will be in the states. NSW Premier Bob Carr has already flown his colours by inviting and paying $134,000 for Christopher Reeve, "Superman," to visit Australia and speak to the NSW Forum on Spinal Injury and Conditions. Premier Carr is keen to persuade Prime Minister John Howard to relax the three-year ban on all human cloning.

As a result of this Forum, Premier Carr announced his Government would introduce 10 new speed cameras to raise money for spinal research. They are expected to raise $10.9 million over four years, and are part of a $35.9 million package for research and extra services for people with disabilities.

Obeying speed limits in New South Wales takes on a new meaning and urgency.

The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation is not the only one trying to persuade the governments to fund embryonic stem cell research. The American Juvenile Diabetes Foundation has been diverting funds into a misleading campaign towards the same end. The Parkinson's Action Network (US) opposed a bill introduced by Congressman Chris Smith called the Responsible Stem Cell Research Act 2001 because it did not include research into embryonic stem cells.

Distinction made

Everyone involved with the Do No Harm campaign would have noticed that the media frequently blurred the distinction between adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Cures as a result of adult stem cells were occasionally attributed to embryonic stem cells by failing to acknowledge the source of the stem cells and then combining that news item with another on embryonic stem cells.

Professor Trounson tried the same trick when he told parliamentarians a rat with hind-leg paralysis was cured using embryonic stem cells when in fact it was treated with gonadal germ cells from a nine-week-old rat foetus.

Language has played an important role in this whole debate. Discredited, non-scientific terms like "pre-embryo", "potential human being" or referring to the embryo as "just totipotent stem cells" as if it was a collection of cells waiting to be knit together into a human, all confuse the issue.

We are told that the blastocyst from which embryonic stem cells are removed is so small it fits on the tip of a sewing needle. Since this is said to convince us of the embryo's expendability, look out small people - by implication you are less human than big people.

Ward Kischer, emeritus professor of anatomy at the University of Arizona, who has written extensively for the American Bioethics Advisory Commission, wrote:

"There is a fine line between scientific obfuscation and scientific fraud, and I think that fine line has been crossed over and over again in these issues."

Professor Kischer points out that there are two meanings to the word "stem cell". One meaning is the "regenerative" or "reparative" cells found in almost every tissue in the human body. These cells are present to either replace lost cells or damaged tissue with substitute cells or tissue.

Growth cells

The other meaning has been applied more recently to the cells of an early embryo which make up the "inner cell mass" inside the blastocyst. These cells are ready to differentiate into all 210 varieties of cells in the human body, and are not "repair cells" but "growth cells".

Professor Kischer recommends that correct terminology be established for "human embryonic stem cell" research. The Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics in its submission to the House of Lords Select Committee on Stem Cell Research deliberately referred to so-called "therapeutic" cloning as "cloning for research" and reproductive cloning as "cloning for birth".

The National Health and Medical Research Council is calling for submissions on "ethical guidelines on the use of reproductive technology in clinical practice and research"

The Victorian Government is also calling for submissions on the "Draft Code of Ethical Practice for the Propagation and Use of Approved Human Stem Cell Lines."

This is where the next stage in this battle will be fought.

  • Jane Munro




























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