Australia: Govt caves into medical fraternity's hype on human embryonic cloning Print E-mail

The Age -- Melbourne -- November 8, 2006

Stem cell research gets green light

Katharine Murphy and Annabel Stafford

Read also: Where do the eggs come from?

AUSTRALIAN scientists are set to create cloned embryos for stem cell research after the Senate last night passed a bill legalising the controversial practice.

Defying predictions of a clear majority, the bill scraped through by just 34 votes to 32, with several senators absent for the historic conscience vote.

The narrow win came after substantial amendments were made to Liberal senator Kay Patterson's bill to legalise therapeutic cloning.

The changes included a ban on the use of animal eggs to create human-animal hybrids and an increase in jail terms for illegal practices such as implanting a cloned embryo in a woman.

The legislation still has to be passed by the House of Representatives to become law, but the margin in favour there is expected to be wider.

Therapeutic cloning advocates last night hailed the vote as a victory for science and hope, while opponents warned it was the first step towards a brave new world in which life is created for functional purposes and then destroyed.

Senator Patterson said last night that the vote was a tribute to people with debilitating diseases who had fought for the research that could produce treatments, not for them, but for future generations.

Democrats senator Natasha Stott Despoja, who had earlier proposed her own private member's bill together with Labor senator Ruth Webber, also hailed the vote. "(Therapeutic cloning) provides an important tool for our scientists in researching possible cures for some seemingly intractable conditions."

But Liberal Gary Humphries, who chaired a parliamentary inquiry into the bill, said the Senate had accepted the principle that "one human being … (could) be used and destroyed for the therapeutic benefit of another".

The Nationals' Ron Boswell, whose wife Leita and grandchildren Tom and Sophie watched the vote from the gallery, said the Senate had given "sanction to distinguishing between two kinds of embryo ­ one born to live, the other created to die".

Senators on both sides of the debate had been unsure of whether the bill would be passed. A definitive call on numbers was made difficult by the absence of several senators on leave and the failure of 11 to turn up for the first important vote on the bill.

And some ­ including Greens leader Bob Brown and Labor's Nick Sherry ­ were still undecided hours before voting in favour.

Senator Brown said there was "a huge responsibility to keep a very close watch on what happens with stem cell research and make sure it stays within the bounds and spirit of the legislation".

Senator Sherry said he voted in favour "without a great deal of confidence and with a great deal of worry".

Family First's Steve Fielding said the narrow win reflected community uncertainty about therapeutic cloning and urged the lower house to take note of that and vote against the bill.


Science bid for hybrid embryo

BRITISH scientists have applied for a licence to create hybrid embryos using human cells and animal eggs for stem cell research to develop new treatments for diseases such as Parkinson's, stroke and Alzheimer's.

If approved, the hybrid embryo will be 99.9 per cent human and 0.1 per cent animal. By using animal eggs, the scientists from Kings College London and the North East England Stem Cell Institute hope to overcome the shortage of human eggs left from IVF treatments, which have been used for stem cell research.

The director of the Stem Cell Biology Laboratory at Kings College, Dr Stephen Minger, said he was optimistic of a favourable ruling from the regulatory body.

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said the application will be peer-reviewed by a panel of experts. A decision could take several months. REUTERS


Sydney Morning Herald -- November 8, 2006

Cloning bill squeezes through, with animal ban

Mark Metherell and Phillip Hudson

THE Senate passed the human embryo cloning legislation last night but deleted a controversial provision that would have allowed the use of animal eggs in the procedure.

Senators voted 34 to 32 in favour of the legislation, a tighter result than the initial vote on the legislation earlier in the day.

No abstentions were recorded, but 10 senators were either away or absented themselves.

Only three of the 12 NSW senators, John Faulkner (Labor), Marise Payne (Liberal) and Kerry Nettle (Greens) voted in favour.

The vote came after the legislation's major advocates agreed to a proposal to disallow the use of animal eggs - a move critics have described as opening the way to animal-human hybrids.

In Britain, two teams of researchers submitted applications on Monday to carry out experiments fusing human cells with rabbit, cow and goat eggs. They say hundreds of eggs from women would be needed to generate a single human embryonic stem cell, and the animal cells could be used to create effective "chimeric" embryos until the science improves.

The Australian Democrats senator Andrew Bartlett said he proposed the amendment because scientists had indicated research was possible without the use of animal eggs. He told the Herald earlier that he was still wrestling with the view conveyed by the legislation that embryos created by cloning "have lesser intrinsic value than an embryo created through a sperm and an egg".

The Senate also agreed to amendments including a proposal for a comprehensive review and tougher penalties, which mean anyone offering to pay for a human egg, sperm or embryo faces 15 years' jail. The Democrats senator Natasha Stott Despoja said she trusted scientists to do the right thing and the bill would give them the tools to embark on "some potentially dazzling research".

"This is one of my happiest days in the Parliament. I think this is a wonderful result, and it offers extraordinary hope for many Australians, not just our generation, the next generation, but beyond, " she said.

But the Liberal Gary Humphries said that while he welcomed the hybrid amendment it would mean more human eggs would have to be used for research.

The Nationals Senate leader, Ron Boswell, said Australia had entered "a new race to clone a human". But Senator Kay Patterson, the former health minister who put up the private member's bill, cited the development more than 200 years ago of smallpox vaccine to counter claims that the use of animal tissue would lead to "scary animal hybrids". Critics had ridiculed Edward Jenner's cow pox-derived vaccine, saying it would cause people to grow horns and a tail. "Far from this happening, Jenner's vaccine proved to be one of the most effective public health instruments of our time," she said.

The legislation will go to the House of Representatives later this month.