NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Patrick J. ByrneNews Weekly
Opening door to embryo experimentation
, September 16, 2006
Practices that grossly violate human dignity will become legal if an expected private member's bill to accept key findings of the Lockhart Inquiry is accepted by Federal Parliament. Pat Byrne reports on the key issues.Just four years ago, Australia's federal and state parliaments voted to ban human cloning and restrict access to human embryos for scientific research. In a radical about-turn, the Lockhart Inquiry has recently recommended legalising human cloning, the cloning of animal-human hybrids and granting scientists greater access to human embryos for embryonic stem-cell research.
These proposals will allow scientists to produce a subclass of human beings and Frankenstein hybrids, solely to be experimented on and destroyed like laboratory rats. This is the worst possible reason to clone a human being.
Now, Senators Natasha Stott Despoja (Australian Democrats) and Kay Patterson (Liberal) are set to introduce a bill to adopt key Lockhart recommendations.
To help News Weekly
readers come to grips with the scientific and medical arguments surrounding this debate, here are some answers to typical questions on the subject:Q. Some argue that somatic-cell nuclear transfer - the most likely method of cloning - does not involve the production of a human embryo?
This is wrong. It is the same method of cloning that produced Dolly the sheep. If successfully used with human genetic materials, it will create a live human embryo.Q. Don't stem cells hold the promise of cures for spinal-cord injuries and diseases like Alzheimer's?
Stem cells are master cells
that can grow and change to make about 250 types of specialised cells. There are two types of stem cells.Embryonic stem cells
(ESCs), found inside human embryos, are obtained by pulling apart the early embryo, destroying a human life in the process. Not only is this highly unethical, embryo stem cells are "unstable" and can develop as life-threatening tumours. No recognised cures have come from embryonic stem cells.
The best hope for treatments lies with adult stem cells
(ASCs) - or "non-embryonic stem cells". These occur naturally in the developing baby, children and adults as master repair cells. They are medically safe, producing new tissues for treating various diseases. Their use does not involve the destruction of human embryos, is ethical, and has produced over 70 cures and treatments.Manipulation
In reality, most embryonic stem-cell research is likely to involve manipulation of the embryo, extraction of embryonic cells and testing of drugs. Professor Alan Trounsen, a leading advocate of cloning and embryo experimentation, has openly admitted that this research is highly unlikely to deliver therapies or cures to anyone.
The Australian Health Ethics Committee and some cloning advocates have disclosed that there are proposals to use embryo stem cells for purposes other than human treatments. These include the laboratory testing of drugs, research into human genes and studying embryo development.
The failure by scientists, the media and politicians to distinguish between the unethical use of embryonic stem cells and the ethical use of adult stem cells is a deliberate attempt to muddy the stem cell and cloning debate.Q. Can "therapeutic cloning" for medical research be considered acceptable as it does not involve the birth of a child?
Scientists have attempted to create a spurious distinction between so-called therapeutic cloning
- creating an embryo to be destroyed in medical research - and reproductive cloning,
to produce a child. In reality, to produce a human embryo is always "reproductive" and to destroy an embryo is never "therapeutic".
The European Parliament has declared this spurious distinction to be a "sleight of hand". The Australian Health Ethics Committee described it as lacking transparency and concealing the truth.Q. If "surplus" embryos are being left to die, why not use them for the sake of scientific progress?
First, despite tens of thousands of frozen embryos being stored, never to be implanted, the vast majority of women do not want their human embryos destroyed in experiments. Instinctively, women know they are human beings.
Second, we do not allow doctors and scientists to experiment on dying human patients on life support, and neither should we allow experiments on embryonic human beings. Under the Nuremberg Code of 1947 on Permissible Medical Experiments, "voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential"; "all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury" must be avoided; and "no experiment should be conducted where there is an a priori
reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur".
In a civilised society, a primary responsibility of government is to protect the weakest and most vulnerable, especially children.
Third, while Australia has 90,000 abortions annually, to go from tolerating abortion to experimenting on live embryos is to go further into moral and ethical decline. The recommendations of the Lockhart Inquiry clearly indicate the slippery slope down which scientists are threatening to lead us.Q. Won't women retain the right to refuse experimentation on their "spare" embryos?
The Lockhart Inquiry has suggested ways to reduce consent requirements from women on the IVF program, so as to give scientists easier access to "excess" embryos. In part, recommendation 29 suggested developing an "appropriate form of consent that could be completed by the responsible person for excess ART [artificial reproduction technology] embryos shortly after the declaration that the embryos are excess".
Potentially, this would give scientists on IVF programs the ability to allocate embryos for experimentation once they were classified as "excess".
There is a concern that women will be offered IVF program discounts in exchange for use of their spare embryos, or that embryos will be bought for substantial sums of money. A South Korean researcher, Dr Hwang Wu-suk, who fraudulently claimed to have cloned a human embryo, used 2,061 human eggs in the process. Some were obtained from his junior female staff.Q. What effect can this process have on the physical and psychological health of women donors?
In many respects, the process of egg-harvesting has turned women into dehumanised "living laboratories" for the pharmaceutical companies, and the process of egg-harvesting and experimentation into a mechanical, industrial, production-line process.Future infertility
Using frozen embryos and cloning embryos for their stem cells require a reliable, large supply of women's ova. Obtained through super-ovulation, this involves high doses of a "hormonal cocktail", with side-effects including hot flushes, bloating, moodiness, headaches, weight gain and tiredness. Up to 10 per cent of egg donors experience ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome, which can lead to hospitalisation, renal failure, future infertility and even death. Over the last year, two deaths have been recorded in Britain.
The language of the associated technologies indicates how women, and their tens of thousands of frozen embryos, have come to be regarded as commodities. Women are seen as "living laboratories"; eggs are "harvested"; cervical mucus is said to be "hostile"; the cervix is said to be "incompetent"; a woman is said to be capable of having "substantial litters" in her "uterine environment" or "endocrinological environment"; a woman receiving a frozen embryo is an "alien mother"; embryos can be "orphaned", be "effectively parentless", or, in their frozen state, "waiting to find mothers".
The language is already insidious and pervasive. Cloning and manufacturing animal-human hybrids and chimeras will further diminish women to the level of egg-producers and incubators; and reduce women, men and children to body parts, saleable products to be bought and sold for profit, to be owned as property by pharmaceutical companies and research laboratories.
The Lockhart proposals represent gross violations of the dignity of the human embryo and cry out to be voted down in parliament.- Pat Byrne.
Cloning a grave offence to human dignityFive years ago, in response to a similar campaign to legalise human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research, the following open letter to Australia's federal, state and territory governments was issued (in October 2001) and signed by Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders, as well as by doctors, academics and others:
We ask our political leaders to have regard for the sacredness of all human beings, of whatever level of maturity, dependency or ability. We ask them to support adult stem-cell research and to reject a policy of destroying some to treat others.
We advise our Governments that producing human embryos by a cloning process ... 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. ...
So-called "therapeutic cloning" involves the manufacture of a new race of laboratory humans with the intention, right from the beginning, to exploit and destroy them as if they were laboratory animals. This would be the worst of all possible uses of the cloning technology.
Cloning humans would also occasion a whole range of new ethical and social dilemmas, because the process radically dissociates procreation from the loving union of a man and a woman, and opens up new possibilities for designing our progeny, controlling their genetic destiny, or exploiting them for the advantage of others. ...
We urge (our political leaders) to ensure that there are effective nationwide prohibitions on unethical alternatives such as the production and destruction of human embryos for experimental purposes, and the creation of a market for unethically procured embryonic stem cells.