EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Backdoor bid to approve therapeutic cloning
, November 15, 2003
Last year, following widespread public disquiet at the possibility that medical scientists would commence the cloning of human beings, the Federal Parliament unanimously voted to reject the technology as ethically repugnant. Its ban was followed by similar legislation in all states and territories.
Now, it has emerged that at the United Nations, the CEO of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and an Australian diplomat have explicitly rejected a proposed UN Convention against cloning, in favour of a draft Convention which would permit so-called "therapeutic cloning", which allows the cloning of human embryos for destructive experimental purposes.
If adopted, it will undoubtedly generate pressure for a revision of the Australian legislation.
Professor Alan Pettigrew, CEO of the NHMRC - the principal government body which funds medical research in Australia - addressed the UN General Assembly on September 30, 2003, on a proposal from Belgium for an International Convention Against the Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings (which would still permit so-called therapeutic cloning).Alternative convention
An alternative Draft Convention, originating from Costa Rica, proposed a complete ban on all human cloning.
After reviewing the Australian legislation, Professor Pettigrew said:
"Whilst the current [Australian] legislation bans all forms of human cloning, the provision in legislation for a review is consistent also with a moratorium on some forms of cloning, should these be determined in future by the Australian Parliament to be allowable, and, if so, under what, if any, conditions.
"As I have stated, an important consideration in the review will be the developments in science medicine that have occurred since the legislation was enacted.
"Expressed in another way, the Australian Parliament has already provided in legislation that further consideration should be given to the issues covered by the legislation after a period of further scientific research, both in Australia and internationally ...
"It is also contrary to the position adopted by other States who have already reached a view that current scientific observations provide conclusive evidence that no further research is required in some areas.
"The Australian delegation therefore does not support the draft resolution proposed by Costa Rica and other States."
Professor Pettigrew has not only misstated the position adopted by the Australian Parliament, but by supporting the Belgian proposal, has supported the adoption of a Convention which, in important respects, contradicts legislation adopted by the Australian Parliament and state legislatures on human cloning.
It is alarming that this should have been done, in the name of Australia, on the other side of the world, with no debate on this issue in Australia.
Lest there be any doubt that the Australian representatives at the UN are looking to a change in the Australian legislation, a statement by Mr Michael Bliss, First Secretary of the Australian Mission to the United Nations, was even more explicit. He said:
"The Belgian draft resolution would allow an early international ban on human reproductive cloning. It would also allow States to support proposals for a ban or moratorium on, or strict regulation of, other forms of human cloning, while leaving some flexibility as to the exact manner in which that is done. In Australia's case, this flexibility would allow us to take account of any recommendations which may arise from the review of our Act."
It should be said that some medical scientists have been trying to water down the Parliamentary legislation almost from the time it was proposed. Shortly after Prime Minister Howard indicated that he would introduce legislation to outlaw cloning in 2001, the AMA and then Health Minister, Michael Wooldridge, came out in support of so-called therapeutic cloning.
While Australia's diplomats want to leave the door open to "therapeutic cloning" on the basis of "developments in science medicine", some 60 other countries have already signed the Costa Rica draft, which calls for a complete ban on human cloning.
The US representative said, "We support a ban on all human cloning, both for reproductive or experimental or therapeutic purposes.
"This position is based not only on ethical and moral principles, but also on pragmatism. There are other ways to achieve the ends sought, including animal and adult stem cell research, that do not present the ethical problems presented by [human] cloning.
"We believe that human cloning, for any purpose, is unethical in itself and sets a dangerous precedent. Consistent with this position, the United States is co-sponsoring the draft resolution introduced by the Foreign Minister of Costa Rica, which calls for a complete ban of human embryonic cloning."
It is vital that Australia joins the United States in this position.
- Peter Westmore is President of the National Civic Council