July 30th 2005

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: In the name of Allah, the wise and the merciful

EDITORIAL: Islamist terrorism: what it signifies

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Dangers of a national ID card

BIOETHICS: Review of human cloning and embryo experimentation

DRUGS CONFERENCE: Tougher approach on drugs urged

WOMEN'S HEALTH: Conspiracy of silence about breast cancer

WORKPLACE RELATIONS: New workplace reforms: the devil is in the detail

SUGAR INDUSTRY: Ethanol coming: but nothing for farmers

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: How to help countries to prosper

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Immigration - who cleans up? / Copping payback / To be or not to be? / Terrorism as ideology

CULTURE AND CIVILISATION: The Judeo-Christian legacy

CONSERVATION: Conservation vs. environmentalism

A national ID card? (letter)

Chirac's untimely taunts (letter)

Max wrong on tax (letter)

Revenue-raising stunt (letter)

BOOKS: CIVIL PASSIONS: Selected Writings, by Martin Krygier

BOOKS: BOY SOLDIERS OF THE GREAT WAR: Their own stories for the first time, by Richard van Emden

Books promotion page

Review of human cloning and embryo experimentation

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, July 30, 2005
The Federal Government has cut short the time allowed to debate laws prohibiting human cloning and limiting human embryo experimentation, writes Peter Westmore.

The Federal Government is cutting short the time allowed for debate on laws prohibiting human cloning and limiting human embryo experimentation.

It has appointed a high-powered committee of lawyers, doctors and scientists to review the legislation it passed in 2002 governing these activities.

The six-member review panel has commenced its work, and has called for public submissions by September 9. It will then have just three months to hear oral submissions and produce its report before December 19, 2005.

The inordinately short time allowed for the review leads to the conclusion that the Federal Government does not want a protracted public controversy over this issue, as happened in 2002.

If that is so, it is bound to be disappointed. There is widespread public concern about the prospect that the Dr Strangeloves of medical technology will attempt to have the existing prohibition on human cloning lifted, and restrictions on destructive experimentation on human embryos removed.

Alan Trounson, director of the Melbourne-based Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories, recently said researchers wanted to experiment on human embryos into which diseases had been introduced.

He told The Australian that this offered new opportunities to understand disease processes and develop treatments. "I think it's totally vital [that the laws be relaxed], because we can help those patients who want to be part of it," Professor Trounson said. (The Australian, July 5, 2005.)

The Victorian Government is also pressing for the laws to be changed.

A great deal will depend on the six-member panel which reviews the existing law.

The Committee will be chaired by retired Federal Court Judge, Justice John Lockhart. Other members are Associate Professor Ian Kerridge, a clinical ethicist; Professor Barry Marshall, a specialist gastroenterologist and community advocate; Professor Loane Skene, a lawyer and ethicist; Professor Peter Schofield, a neuroscientist; and Associate Professor Pamela McCombe, a clinical neurologist.

Justice Lockhart worked for over a year as judicial consultant to the World Bank before becoming an executive director of the Asian Development Bank in 1999. One of the most problematic parts of the work of the Asian Development Bank is its support for population-control activities.

Professor Ian Kerridge, director of the Centre for Ethics, Values and the Law in Medicine at Sydney University, is also a physician working in adult stem-cell transplantation. In a recent paper in the Medical Journal of Australia, he was highly critical of the establishment of Notre Dame Medical School in Sydney, because it was established by the Catholic Church.

Professor Kerridge identified "at least three major areas of concern with regard to religiously-affiliated medical schools: (1) the adequacy of the medical education provided and potential resulting limitations on patient access to health services and provision of comprehensive care; (2) equitable access to medical education in an increasingly competitive environment; and (3) issues associated with academic freedom and tolerance of diverse beliefs."

He added that "despite the evident commitment to care by many Catholic institutions and clinicians, it remains the case that there is a problematic tension between the teachings of the Church and the services and information provided by medical institutions and practitioners."

Professor Barry Marshall is the research professor of microbiology at University of WA, who discovered that bacteria cause peptic ulcers. His discovery has revolutionised the treatment of this disease throughout the world.

Some years ago, another member of the panel, Professor Loane Skene from the University of Melbourne Law School has published an article on assisted reproductive technology (ART) in Australia and New Zealand in the Texas International Law Journal.

Professor Peter Schofield is senior principal research fellow at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in New South Wales. His research field is genes involved in psychiatric disorders.

The principles involved in the review are those spelled out by religious leaders of all denominations in 2002. They said, "Producing human embryos by a cloning process or any other method of non-sexual reproduction is a grave offence to human dignity.

"It produces a laboratory embryo with no parents or guardians, in fact no one concerned to protect his or her interests. It means that all such embryos would be likely to be destroyed, since the advocates of human cloning experiments acknowledge that to allow them to develop would be unsafe.

"Much worse than cloning human beings to reproduce children would be the creation or use of human embryos for the purpose of destructive experimentation.

"The supposed distinction between 'therapeutic' and 'reproductive' cloning must be exposed for the furphy it is: to produce an embryo is always 'reproductive'; to destroy an embryo is never 'therapeutic'. The European Parliament has declared the distinction to be a sleight of hand and the Australian Health Ethics Committee described it as lacking transparency and concealing the truth," they concluded.

  • Peter Westmore

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