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RESEARCH INVOLVING EMBRYOS AND PROHIBITION OF HUMAN CLONING BILL 2002: Second Reading

Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (11.49 a.m.) —I believe that the people of Australia want us to be careful in the decision we are making about the use of embryos for research.

The Research Involving Embryos and Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002 has two parts. One part seeks to ban cloning of humans and the other part puts in place a regime for conducting research in the area of embryos and the therapeutic use of human material.

Much of this debate relates to the way in which material or processes are devised for future medical application. In fact, the debate is tainted to some degree by the new processes that we have put in place which relate to intellectual property. Intellectual property is driving much of the anxiety expressed by some researchers and the extraordinary claims made by others. In the future—from now on, in fact—the processes that are devised, invented or produced in the laboratory can be patented. So, instead of being freely available for scientific use, we are looking now at processes which will carry patent rights and which will have extraordinary value. That is where the money factor fits into what we are debating today. We need to be aware that claims can be made in order to capture some of that intellectual property, whether it be a peripheral process, whether it be a technique established in the laboratory, or whether it be a critical one that will go on earning for those who have the breakthroughs for many years to come. In that new environment, we look at this legislation.

I believe that everyone in the House wants us to take a great deal of care. I believe that the Australian people are fairly conservative in their views about what they want scientists to do and not do. That is No. 1. They do not wish us to be too adventurous in what we encourage or allow people to do; they would like us to be within the scope of their understanding, despite the brilliance of many people working in these fields.

The ban on cloning is one part of the bill; the research is another part. The research part is the part that is exercising the attention of members at the moment. The debate has two elements to it: the scientific element and also the moral or ethical element. I would like to deal with both. First, I would like to deal with the research. Having spent two years on a House committee looking at these issues, I as a member of the House of Representatives was pleased that we were able to present a report that agreed in a great number of areas. But, in some critical areas, there were differences in the committee. At the end of the day the committee divided and was not able to present a unified picture. The divisions in the committee did not occur on party lines, but were based on the evidence and personal attitudes to ethical and moral questions as much as scientific questions. [start page 5199]

Let us look at the science first of all. We should be aware that, behind this legislation, there is an allocation of $46 million to Professor Alan Trounson at the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development in Melbourne. The way that $46 million will be used depends a great deal on how this House deals with the issues before it and also how the Senate deals with these issues. There is a factor not only of intellectual property rights but also of the use of research funds. It is my view that some of the expressions used over the last few weeks have been coloured by a wish to have maximum freedom in the use of that $46 million. Those researchers, whether they be in Professor Trounson's institute or in other institutes, would be coloured by their capacity to take up the maximum amount of that money and use it for research.

Why is this research so important? Claims are made that it offers hope for healing many diseases. After hearing evidence from scientists in Australia and overseas, my assessment is that it may. You cannot put it more strongly than that. It may come to fruition some time in the future. When? Certainly not next week. Superman will not fly, that is for sure. The research is at its very beginnings; in a day of 24 hours, we are in the first few minutes. So the claims for healing and the prospect of results need to be dealt with with a great deal of caution.

Not one member of the committee that made these investigations says that results are imminent. Nobody could possibly think that anything will be available within five years. Perhaps it will be much longer than that: most scientists say it will be 10 years before we have results. So I think television clips of rats being healed and people with ailments—tremendously sad—saying that this research must go ahead for the sake of their healing are an abuse of the process. No matter how tragic—and I want to do everything possible for those people—we need to put that to one side and deal with the fact that there will not be any results from this research for 10 years. That is the best estimate we can make at this point.

I have dealt with ownership, but not with the types of research offering the prospect of results. There are two complementary, related fields. The first is the use of embryonic stem cells. They are cells taken from an embryo and cultured on a dish. They can grow indefinitely. It is said that they can take on any form; given the right signal and direction, they can grow into bone, marrow, pancreas, liver, kidneys or anything else. The trouble is that nobody has been able to give the right signal to those cells. Many think that it can happen; nobody has done it—and they have been at it for a long time.

They have been able to culture stem cells in a dish, but they turn out all bits and pieces—there are some blood cells, some hair cells, some bone cells and so on. It is a real mixture as a group of cells taken from a destroyed embryo are cultured and scientists try to regenerate what the cells were designed to do. They were in that embryo ready to create a person. When they were taken out of the embryo and cultured in a dish they tried to do what they were meant to do, but in no organised manner. The trigger to direct their growth to a particular type of tissue is partly what this is about.

The other sort of research is related to adult stem cells, which occur in everyone's body. You do not have to be an adult to have them; they are just a different sort of cell called an adult stem cell. They occur in most parts of the body and they can be taken out. Until recently, it was not thought that they could be grown or kept for long periods. But that has changed over the last three or four years: adult stem cells can now be cultured, can be nurtured outside the body and can grow.

On the evidence, which offers the greatest prospect of results? We have scarce resources in Australia. How should we fund the research? Which is the best avenue for us to take? I acknowledge that that is a pretty pragmatic approach, but it is the way I look at things. I think the pragmatism of how you are going to use these funds in a scientific situation is pretty important. To decide how you are going to use these funds, you need to go to the evidence.

The evidence from the embryonic stem cell research indicates that, whilst there may be prospects of doing things, nothing has resulted. There may be some interesting proteins, as my friend Dr Mal Washer said, but that has not been proven yet. There may be the prospect of directing the embryonic stem cells in a certain course, but that is not certain yet. But we do know that in Australia the main proponents of this process have between them approximately 10 embryonic stem cell lines on which they are working and trying to find the trigger—the electricity or the chemical—that will direct the cells to a certain form of growth. Those cells will grow indefinitely. They are an infinite supply of research material. To claim that more cells lines for research are needed to find out how those stem cells can be directed is absolutely unwarranted. There is an adequate supply.

I have some difficulty with some of the arguments that have been put, particularly by Professor Trounson. Before our parliamentary committee, he made it quite clear that he believed that there were adequate lines of stem cells in Australia and that none would be needed. Within weeks of the committee finishing its report, this man—who is claimed by those around him to be one of the world's leading experts in this field—suddenly discovered that he is going to need a whole lot more. I find it fairly difficult to acknowledge the expertise of somebody who so quickly can change their mind or makes a sudden discovery a few weeks after appearing before a parliamentary committee that a whole lot of new stem cell lines are needed that they were not aware of when before that parliamentary committee. I find that really difficult. If we were under different terms, I would wonder what the factors of privilege might be with regard to that evidence. [start page 5200]

The stem cell lines that are available in Australia will allow research to continue indefinitely along the lines that people claim they want to go. They do say that they have problems because there is some mouse, tissue, serum or contamination involved. I can understand their concerns, but my view is: let's prove that we can do it and then we can worry about the mouse tissue. Let's prove that we can have these cells redirect themselves into the forms that we want and then we can think about doing something about the problems that have been identified. Let's prove that we can do what it is claimed can be done. The Premier of New South Wales ought to take note of that also. The Premier of New South Wales has been out there making, in my opinion, the most extraordinary statements, which would lead one to the view that he is in favour of therapeutic cloning and everything else that goes with it. I do not know whether he has made a study of it, but I would hope that he has. Certainly this legislation is more restrictive than he thinks it is, and he says that he has agreed to it. It does ban cloning and all of the manipulations inherent with cloning.

I will now go to the other alternative: adult stem cells. As I said, until a few years ago they were thought to be not very useful. However, I have before me, Mr Deputy Speaker Hawker—and your predecessor said that when I seek to have these extracts attached to my speech in Hansard that he would consider that request—a summary of where institutes have used adult stem cells and have gained an indication of further and future use, such as in the use of adult stem cells for treating animal models and then in spinal cord injury, diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hawker)—Is the member for Mitchell seeking leave?

Mr CADMAN —Yes, I am seeking leave to incorporate, but I am happy to take advice on whether it is appropriate material.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Is leave granted?

Mr Edwards —It is very difficult to know whether leave is granted, given the sensitivity of this debate. I would not want to say no, but I do not know what the material is.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Would you be happy for leave to be granted subject to the normal rules of the Speaker agreeing to the incorporation?

Mr Edwards —Yes.

Mr CADMAN —I thank the House. I would normally extend that courtesy, but the comments made by my colleague are perfectly accurate: it is very hard for us to decide. I draw the attention of the House to some of the areas where adult stem cells have been used and to a comparison with the use of embryonic stem cells. I think this information on blood related advances is useful: for example, adult liver stem cells make pancreatic cells reversing hyperglycaemia in diabetic mice—none of that has been achieved with the use of embryonic stem cells—adult bone marrow stem cells rescue retinal degeneration—that is behind the eye—preventing blindness; adult stem cells more effective than embryonic stem cells in a number of cases; and adult skin cells reprogrammed without cloning. These factors need to be taken into consideration. On the evidence before me, I cannot endorse a process that encourages the use of IVF cells. On a scientific basis, the evidence is not there to warrant the expenditure of Australian resources in this area.

There is another factor, and that is the ethical and moral factor. I too believe, like my colleague who spoke before me, that life begins the moment that sperm enters the ovum, that from that time there is a unique DNA system set up that has never appeared before on earth and that DNA is carried right through the life of that individual, from the time conception takes place to the time that individual dies. Whether that individual perishes in the womb, perishes shortly after birth, is killed in a car accident, kills themselves with drugs or lives a happy and successful life and produces many other children similar to themselves they are human and should be regarded as such.

I do not believe that we should take those IVF embryos. The parents own them still, as far as I understand it, and have not been consulted in this debate as a group and who would have a dream and a prospect for those embryos. Parents are using some of these embryos to have an additional baby as late as seven years after they have been created. Members of this House who have IVF children and people who have had IVF children would be horrified if they thought that their children were being experimented with. There are spare embryos waiting in the freezer to be children. Just give them the right environment and they become people—take those embryos that are frozen, put them in a mum and you have got another person; it is as simple as that.

I believe that we need to divide this bill and make it clear that the whole House is against cloning. I do not think there is a person who seriously advances that cause, although I notice Professor Trounson has in some of his comments shifted backwards and forwards on this issue. I do not believe this House wants us to go down the cloning route. If there is a review, we need to do it here; we do not need to send it off to the National Health and Medical Research Council to do a review of cloning. Then we ought to consider what we do with research. I am opposed to the use of IVF embryos for experimental purposes.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hawker)—During the member for Mitchell's speech he sought to have a document incorporated in Hansard. The Speaker has advised that the document falls outside the guidelines for incorporation, but that with the concurrence of the House it may be tabled.

Author: Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 21st August 2002
Release Date: 2 Sep 2002

 
 




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