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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 4 Hansard (10 April) . . Page.. 927 ..

MRS CROSS (continuing):

As I was saying, I appreciate the despair with which some people have to live their everyday lives-despair that could probably be lifted by this new technology. I believe that those who oppose this new research, because they are confused about a six-day-old cluster of cells in a petri dish, commit a greater moral sin by sentencing those who are in dire need of a cure to lives without hope.

MS DUNDAS (3.54): I thank Mrs Cross for bringing this important discussion to the floor, and I note that her commitment in this area is outstanding.

Science is advancing at such a rate that our ethics-or perhaps, more specifically, our legislation-are finding it very difficult to keep up. The lags between scientific developments and their regulation must be addressed in the parliaments, and not in the pulpits of the churches.

Stem cell research, genetic modification and gene technology are concepts that were unheard of only a few years ago, yet the implications of each milestone are both exciting and terrifying.

The Democrats are strongly opposed to human reproductive cloning. They have long advocated the need for federal legislation which ensures this practice cannot occur in Australia. The recent COAG communique signals that this measure will be taken, later this year. This is something the Australian Democrats have been calling for since 1998-believing that human reproductive cloning to produce human fetuses is both unethical and unsafe.

A historic decision was made last Friday, when government leaders agreed that research would initially be limited to 60,000 frozen embryos, left over from IVF programs. It is the first step, with a three-year ban on the use of new embryos-rather than the permanent ban proposed initially by the Tory Prime Minister, John Howard. This gives Australia a more liberal research regime than that adopted last year in the United States, but more restrictive than that in Britain.

Of some concern is that therapeutic cloning is still banned in Australia, under the new agreement. I hope this decision is debated publicly to move towards a more amenable position.

Therapeutic cloning, using human embryo stem cells, has been mooted as providing potential cures for a wide range of human conditions, such as diabetes, stroke, cancer and neuro-degenerative disorders, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

Australia is well placed to benefit from leading world expertise in embryonic stem cell research, but the attendant ethical questions need careful deliberation. Australia boasts some of the world's leading stem cell researchers. However, the current ban on therapeutic cloning may prompt some of our best scientists to move abroad. Already the chief executive of Stem Cell Sciences, Dr Peter Mountford, said the ban on therapeutic cloning may force his company to move its research to Britain.

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