Page 984 - Week 03 - Thursday, 3 April 2008

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reinforced through the development of the intergovernmental research involving human embryos and prohibition of human cloning agreements 2004 to which the ACT is a party. The commonwealth, states and the ACT then signed a notice of variation to the 2004 agreement in 2007, renewing their commitment to nationally consistent arrangements for the prohibition of human cloning and the regulation of human embryo research. This is an approach that I believe has served the community well and has provided us with a clear and rational framework for the assessment of these often difficult issues.

The Human Cloning and Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2007 addresses the desire for a nationally consistent approach to regulate research involving human embryos, research that has the potential to cure disease and save lives. In my view, this bill will expand the range of research activities which may be carried out under licences issued by the National Health and Medical Research Council, or the NHMRC, Embryo Research Licensing Committee.

Specifically, the amendments will allow, under licence, the creation of embryos for research purposes by means other than fertilisation of a human egg by human sperm. As is currently the case, the NHMRC Embryo Research Licensing Committee will be able to issue licenses only for research approved by a human research ethics committee. Research must also be conducted in accordance with the NHMRC’s ethical guidelines.

I believe strongly that the special character of embryos warrants a strict regulatory regime for research involving excess ART embryos. I also believe that human embryos should not be created for any other purpose than ART treatment. And this is something that this bill seeks to address. The bill amends the definition of a human embryo to be consistent with the NHMRC definition and the definition in the 2006 commonwealth legislation which this bill mirrors. The point at which a human embryo is defined to commence existence is the identification of the first mitotic division.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of this bill is that it will allow for the creation of embryos using somatic cell nuclear transfer. The purpose of this technique is to create an embryo clone from which embryonic stem cells may be derived for research. Attempts to use this technique to clone a human will be prevented by the prohibitions that I have just mentioned.

This perhaps is one of the provisions of the bill most open to misinterpretation. Yes, it is true that animal and non-animal egg and sperm may be used as part of this process. But it should be recognised that this is used only to test the viability of the human sperm and to assist researchers in the process of facilitating their activities.

While there have been enormous developments in medical research involving adult stem cells, this does not, in my view, remove the need for embryonic stem cell research. While there is some suggestion that certain adult stem cells may be pluripotent, this research is not conclusive, and research in this area is ongoing.

Many scientists working in the areas of adult and embryonic stem cell research agree that their work in these two main areas of stem cell research is both complementary

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