Page 930 - Week 03 - Thursday, 3 April 2008

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curing diseases and other medical afflictions is a valuable and worthwhile enterprise. I do not think that any person with a shred of empathy could fail to feel bad at the plight of people who are suffering from serious medical problems. However, the ends of medical research do not justify the indiscriminate use of any means necessary. The ends do not justify the means.

I have said that I believe that controversy on this bill is over an ethical rather than a medical issue. However, I would be remiss if I did not present some other perspectives on the medical reality of embryonic stem cell research that have been presented by advocates who would be keen to support this bill.

I am certainly not suggesting that an area of research should be banned simply because we decide that it is not very useful or that some other technology is better. If the only objections to this bill were over different opinions on the medical prospects of stem cell technology, this would not be a legislative issue. Nevertheless, it is important that we have a balanced perspective on the medical reality of this technology so that we are not proceeding on the basis of medical illusions of grandeur.

I say at the outset that I do not pretend to have a strong enough—or even satisfactory—knowledge of medical science to do anything more than pass on the remarks of experts in the field. This level of knowledge is reserved to trained doctors and researchers who specialise in this area. But there is not to my knowledge any member of this Assembly with sufficient medical knowledge to have any genuine knowledge of the prospects of embryonic stem cell research when viewed in the full extent of medical knowledge. We are by necessity in a position where we must rely on the opinions of experts.

If we look at the body of medical opinion—not just to confirmatory findings, but to the spectrum of varying opinions of experts—we find that the advances in medical science from embryonic stem cells are not as clear cut as some of the proponents of this legislative change would have us believe. There have been some dubious findings on the potential of embryonic stem cell research and even clear attempts within the scientific community to fraudulently overstate the value of embryonic stem cell research.

In 2005 at Seoul National University—Mrs Burke, I think you made reference to this; I was upstairs, but I was listening to the debate—Professor Hwang Woo Suk announced that his research group had successfully created 31 embryos and derived 11 lines of stem cells. However, an investigating team at the university found that Professor Hwang’s claims to have cloned human embryonic stem cells were in fact false. A report on the research stated that the research group “did not have any proof to show that cloned embryonic stem cells were ever created”. It further stated:

The 2004 paper was written on fabricated data to show that the stem cells match the DNA of the provider although they didn’t.

This finding has called into question much of the research on human embryonic stem cell technology and the potential for this to form a viable technology. Obviously one does not want to ditch an entire area of medical science simply because a group of researchers or practitioners are found to have fraudulently manipulated their data, but

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