Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 03 Hansard (Thursday, 3 April 2008) . . Page.. 928 ..
MR MULCAHY (Molonglo) (11.16): This bill raises some controversial issues which seem to me to be somewhat analogous to those that are raised in questions over abortion. In listening to the perspectives of many commentators on this issue, I have noticed that the central focus of discussion is on the medical and scientific aspects of embryonic stem cell research. It seems to me that such discussion is merely dancing around the real issue, which is an ethical rather than a medical one. This bill and the technology of embryonic stem cell research force us to think carefully about the point at which human life begins and the ethical status of a human embryo. This is the real issue as far as I am concerned, regardless of the state of the medical technology involved.
The ethical status of a human embryo is a complex question of moral philosophy. It does not surprise me that there are a number of strong views on this issue. I imagine that, as this debate unfolds today, we will see quite diverging opinions on the various issues that are addressed in this legislation and the questions that are raised. These run the gamut from those who believe that the human embryo is just a bunch of cells with no greater ethical importance than the contents of a used tissue to those who believe that the embryo should be regarded as a human being to be accorded the same ethical treatment and rights as other human beings.
I hasten to point out that, while this is an issue of moral philosophy, it is not solely a religious issue. While religious beliefs may affect one’s views on the ethical questions involved, there are many people of different religions on both sides of these questions, and there are many people who are not in the slightest bit religious who still have a view on the ethical issues involved. I mention this to be clear that talking about the ethical issues involving the treatment of human embryos does not mean that one is trying to simply impose one’s religious beliefs on others.
A central question with which we must be concerned is the determination of the ethical status of a human embryo and what is and is not acceptable treatment of such an embryo. In determining this question, we must be aware that we are talking about human embryos that have the potential to grow into human beings. These embryos are as viable as human embryos that are produced for the purposes of assisted reproductive technology. The National Health and Medical Research Council have stated that the embryos resulting from the somatic cell nuclear transfer technique can be used for human cloning. They state:
If a cloned embryo is placed into a woman’s uterus, and it implants and develops to birth, a new human being will be created whose nuclear DNA will be identical to the person who donated the original body cell.
This bill allows the creation of human embryos of this kind solely for the purposes of scientific experimentation. Human embryos which are essentially identical to those used to assist couples to have children will now be used solely for scientific experimentation.
This is not merely a matter of using cells that are discarded from other medical procedures. This is a very big change in the principles applied to embryonic research under the existing act. Under the existing act we proceeded on the principle that an