March 12th 2005

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The media elites versus the public

CANBERRA OBSERVED: American-style workplace relations for Australia?

SCHOOLS: Teacher training at the mercy of politics

HUMAN CLONING: UN victory's implications for Australia

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Gallop Labor Government returned to power

EDITORIAL: Debt tsunami moves closer

AUSTRALIAN ECONOMY: The economy that will confront the next generation

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Reserve Bank governor defends his record

ENERGY: Ethanol - Australia being left behind

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Visas for sale / Kyoto hot air convention / Europe, China and the US-Japan alliance / Edge of the abyss

ASIA: Japan, India and China - new strategic alliance?

VIETNAM: Hanoi's abysmal human rights record

A response to Babette Francis (letter)

Turkish massacre of the Armenians (letter)

Putin - can a leopard change his spots? (letter)

Abortion's hidden wounds (letter)

BOOKS: MICHAEL MOORE is a Big Fat Stupid White Man

BOOKS: SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: Putting Every Household at Risk

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UN victory's implications for Australia

by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, March 12, 2005
All governments have been told to ban every form of human cloning, according to a United Nations resolution adopted on February 18.

The UN vote is timely, in that Australia will soon be reviewing its legislation on cloning and embryo research. Two and a half years ago, federal parliament voted to ban cloning for three years, while allowing research on excess IVF embryos. At the end of this three-year period, a review will be undertaken to see which way Australia will proceed on the issue. A panel will soon be established for this purpose, and members of the community will again be asked to put in submissions on the matter.

The resolution, which is non-binding, was passed by a UN general assembly committee by a margin of 71 to 35, with 43 abstentions. The measure still needs to go to the full 191-nation assembly.

The vote is the culmination of a four-year lobbying effort aimed at the UN by pro-life groups. The resolution, put forward by Honduras, and heavily backed by the US, has been one of several to be introduced in recent years. Not surprisingly, countries heavily involved in cloning and biotech research - such as South Korea, Singapore, Britain, Belgium and China - rejected the resolution.

Australian role

Backers of the resolution included Australia, Germany, Ireland and the US. Islamic nations abstained, claiming an absence of a consensus. The resolution calls on member states to implement legislation "to prohibit all forms of human cloning in as much as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life". It also calls on countries to "adopt measures necessary to prohibit the application of genetic engineering techniques that may be contrary to human dignity". And it called upon nations to "take measures to prevent the exploitation of women in the application of life sciences."

While the ban is not compulsory, it sends a clear signal that respect for human life, at even the earliest stages of life, is an important international human right. Praise for the decision came from around the world. David Prentice of the US-based Family Research Council said that this was a unique opportunity for the UN to take a moral stand: "It's extremely important that the UN take a stand against the use of human cloning technology for any purpose. The protection of human life as an experiment should not be allowed."

A Vatican spokesman said the importance of the ban was highlighted by "the fact that it appeals to the states to ban all forms of cloning contrary to human dignity and the protection of life".

Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute said of the resolution: "This means that the United Nations is stating very clearly that member states should adopt legislation outlawing all cloning practices."

Brisbane doctor and pro-life advocate David van Gend also applauded the decision, saying that we should not be deceived by those who attempt to separate so-called therapeutic cloning from reproductive cloning. He said: "Cloning is cloning no matter what you subsequently do with the cloned offspring; it is always the creation of an identical twin of the donor, which can either be born or be experimented on.

"It is sociologically wrong to clone an embryo without biological parents, a mere creation of technicians, and let it be born as an absolute orphan. But it is morally sick to clone such an anonymous embryo, with no parents to defend its interests, simply to kill it for scientific research."

Australian scientists and biotech industry groups have said that they will press for the ban to be lifted. Australia is a leading world player in biotech, stem-cell research, and related areas. It therefore has very real vested interests in proceeding with such research.

The biotech industry is already gearing up for active lobbying on this issue. A spokeswoman for the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research in Australia has said that her organisation would be heavily involved in public information campaigns: "One of our major goals will be to explain to people how there is a huge difference between reproductive cloning, which we oppose, and therapeutic cloning which we are in favour of."

The process and the product in both cases are identical. The technique used is the same, and the outcome is the same. It is just that in the former, the embryo is allowed to live, whereas in the latter, the very young embryo is killed in order for its stem cells to be extracted. In both cases, a human being is created. One lives and the other dies. Thus the UN vote sets an important precedent in the ongoing debate in Australia.

As Dr van Gend has remarked: "In Australia, all governments agreed unanimously that it is wrong to create a human life in order to destroy it for science. At the UN, delegates confirmed that: 'No human life should ever be produced to be destroyed for the benefit of another.' That key ethical principle cannot change, so there can be no regressing to the barbarous scenario of cloning our young as mere laboratory meat for the consumption of science."

While the UN vote is a very welcome step in the right direction, the battles will continue. Meanwhile, the debate here in Australia will surely be a major battle-front in the war over the fate of the unborn.

  • Bill Muehlenberg

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