MEDICAL SCIENCE: by Charles Francis, AM, QC, RFDNews Weekly
'Scientific' spin on cloning unravels
, June 23, 2007
Scientists who want to use human embryos for destructive research have succeeded in deceiving our federal and state parliaments into passing legislation allowing them to clone and kill. Now, writes Charles Francis QC, these scientists are admitting the truth: this research is not going to provide cures for any disease or disability in the foreseeable future, if ever.In the May issue of Melbourne University Magazine, Professor Loane Skene, chair of the Lockhart Committee, which recently reviewed Australian stem-cell legislation, is quoted as saying: "Cures for human diseases were not likely to be available for many years, if at all, as many experiments would be needed to prove that such procedures would work and would be safe.
"There will need to be tests on animals and then clinical trials involving humans as well as extensive testing for quality assurance and safety. This is likely to take at least a decade and possibly much longer."
Professor Skene is only confirming what Professor Mark Kirkland of the Douglas Hocking Research Institute said in 2005: "Embryonic stem-cell research will not be a viable and generally available clinical option for at least another 10 years, and, by the time such therapies are available, they will have been supplanted by cellular therapies based on adult stem-cells."Alternatives
There are now over 75 treatments for diseases and disabilities using adult stem-cells and potentially even more from stem cells derived from cord blood, placentas and amniotic fluid - all achievable without killing embryos.
Tragic cases such as the late Christopher Reeve and others in wheelchairs were paraded before politicians and the public in a cynical vote-buying exercise. Even now, diabetics associations have been fooled into believing that embryonic stem-cells hold hope when actual successful treatments are becoming available from adult stem-cells.
But beyond the scientific deception, the federal and Victorian legislation allowing cloning raises serious human rights issues.
In Victoria the Parliamentary Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee has issued an alert, advising parliament that the legislation breaches international standards that require non-therapeutic research to be no more than low risk. The risks to women involved in providing the eggs are high: risks include hyper-stimulation of ovaries, general anaesthesia and abdominal surgery.
The National Perinatal Statistics Unit annual report for 2004 records 308 cases of ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome suffered by women who underwent IVF treatment cycles in Australia in that year. Of these, 83 per cent were admitted to hospital. Ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome is a life threatening condition - ovaries become large and painful, fluid may leak into the abdomen and chest, resulting in serious fluid and electrolyte imbalance.
Women accept these risks in their efforts to have a child, but why should they undertake life-threatening complications for no identifiable benefit to themselves or anyone else?
In the case of bone-marrow donations, which also involve some risk, there is an identifiable beneficiary, the recipient who is suffering from a lethal blood disorder. But who is going to benefit from putting at risk the lives or future fertility of women persuaded - or coerced - into donating eggs?
There are historical precedents that should make us pause before we embark on this "unbrave" new world of human experimentation. Nazi scientists immersed prisoners in freezing water to find out how long pilots who had to bail out could survive in the North Sea. No doubt the information was useful - but are we entitled to use human beings for such experiments?
In 2005, Australia signed a UN declaration banning all forms of human cloning. We are also signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which calls for protection of the child before as well as after birth.
Redefining the embryo, which is what Australia's Lockhart Committee did to evade the protection of this treaty, was sleight of hand worthy of a magician. However, the real magic is in adult stem-cells, not mythical clones.
The American College of Pediatricians (ACP) has called for an end to embryonic stem-cell research and recommends the exclusive support of already proven effective adult stem-cell research.
"Not only does embryonic research require taking the life of human embryos, it also prolongs needless suffering by delaying the development of more promising adult stem-cell treatments and cures," ACP fellow Michelle Cretella, MD, has stated.
"Every dollar spent on the failed and unnecessary process of embryonic stem-cell research steals resources away from the established utility and potential of adult stem-cell research. This is fiscally irresponsible and medically unconscionable."- Charles Francis, AM QC RFD, is a retired Melbourne lawyer and former Victorian MP.