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Thursday, 30 November 2006
Page: 95

Miss JACKIE KELLY (4:14 PM) —I never thought I would see the day when this parliament introduced legislation more bizarre than fiction. In the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The 6th Day it was legal to reproduce people’s pets but not humans. Hence the fiction—Arnie had to die because he was close to discovering RePet Incorporated’s big secret: they had been cloning humans.

So in the bowels of Hollywood, script writers are dreaming up something so horrible to base their story-lines on—something that would shock the average person in the cinema, really horrify them, turn their stomachs and scare them silly—and what do they come up with? Human cloning. Yet this bill makes the corporation RePet illegal but ‘ReArnie’?—that is legal. Truth is stranger than fiction.

You can deny to the man in the street that the cells involved in the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006 are embryonic. You can call them SCNT cells, stem cells, pancreatic cells or what you like, but if this cell is implanted in a uterus it will give birth to a clone. Let me read from the executive summary of the Lockhart review:

A further argument was that it is wrong to create human embryos to destroy them and extract stem cells. Human embryo clones are human embryos, and given the right environment for development, could develop into a human being. Furthermore, if such an embryo were implanted in the uterus of a woman to achieve a pregnancy, the individual so formed would certainly have the same status and rights as any other human being. However, a human embryo clone created to extract stem cells is not intended to be implanted, but is created as a cellular extension of the original subject. The Committee therefore agreed with the many respondents who thought that the moral significance of such a cloned embryo is linked more closely to its potential for research to develop treatments for serious medical conditions, than to its potential as a human life.

We are dealing with clones. We are talking about clones. This bill takes into account human frailties, so it makes it an offence punishable by prison to allow these cells—these clones—to survive beyond 14 days. You know why we do not want clones to survive beyond 14 days, don’t you? What if the scientist is hit by a bus and comes back to the lab 28 days later? What would these cells look like? How about 140 days later—what would these cells look like? I can tell you and so can any woman who has had an 18-week scan during a pregnancy.

Denying that this bill makes cloning possible is feeble at best. It is cloning. But what is so wrong with that? Belgium, China, Singapore, Japan and Sweden—they are all doing it; why not us? China is also using body parts of executed criminals for organ transplants. I am fed up with Australia being the lead contractor in our defence contracts. We always seem to be paying extra for our defence equipment because we are the lead supplier. Yet it is government policy that we should be purchasing, off the shelf, tried and proven international methods. What is wrong with Australia waiting a few more years to see how this technology turns out?

We said no to this bill in 2004. I do not think the parliament got it wrong. I cannot see anything that has happened since 2004 to lead me to any belief that we should expedite this research, which is barely eight years old. In any event, the scientists, thanks to the 2004 bill, already have access to all of the surplus IVF embryos with the parents’ consent. This bill also insists on a woman consenting to the use of her eggs. Good luck, because you have not had much success with the eggs already available and these women have already gone through the arduous hormone treatment and very painful egg extractions. You are not getting my eggs for that effort!

So where are the eggs going to come from? If these are truly SCNT cells, why not just let them reproduce in the petrie dish ad infinitum? Just simply kick the process off with the existing surplus IVF eggs and do not kill them at 14 days but let them keep reproducing. You will not have any requirement for more eggs, but do you know why we require more eggs? We must kill these clones at 14 days because we know what happens if we do not.

So we are going to need an enormous supply of eggs. That is the kind of stuff that horror films are made of. It is absolutely abhorrent to put the mothers, sisters and daughters of the one million diabetes sufferers, 200,000 Alzheimer’s patients and 10,000 people with spinal cord injuries in a situation where they are expected to donate their eggs with the associated risks to their ovarian health. Spare us women the added burden of guilt, expectation and exploitation that will come with this bill.

There has even been one suggestion that aborted foetuses could be the source of these eggs. I cannot be satisfied with the efficacy of the egg collection and I do not believe that women will volunteer en masse on the scale required to make any significant contribution to the discovery of cures in this area of research. I have sought to amend this bill to satisfy all the concerns I have, but it is fundamentally flawed. I would rather spend my time dealing with the consequences of the weird and wonderful ways people have already used the IVF technology.

I could craft legislation for the rights of a woman whose egg is used to create the life. I could crystallise her rights to court to gain access to the child subsequent to birth. I would limit the number of eggs a single woman could donate to create children. I would put systems in place to prevent children created in this way from marrying their genetic siblings. I would codify the rights of a woman who carries another couple’s embryo. I would determine that $200,000 is grossly inadequate compensation for a surrogate mother. I would regulate the possible career of surrogate motherhood and determine that they must have already given birth in order to be a surrogate mother. I could limit the number of surrogate children a surrogate mother could give birth to. I could give the baby bonus to the woman with the mothering expenses rather than to the woman with the confinement expenses. I could codify the rights of the woman who orchestrates a surrogate birth and will for all purposes be the mother of that child, and her partner, who is complicit in the creation. Their names could appear on the register of births, deaths and marriages. They would be liable for child support in any subsequent Family Court matter.

What are the rights of a child conceived in another jurisdiction in circumstances illegal in Australia but brought up under Australian law? Have the parents committed an offence? In a family law dispute should frozen embryos be determined as a property right? Who owns them? What if one parent is dead? What are the rights of the other parent? What are the inheritance rights of a child born two years after either parent dies? Does this affect the other siblings’ inheritance? If the federal parliament is not prepared to legally codify the consequences of all of these things and more, then I do not think it is quite up to the standard of dealing with a whole bunch of new issues that will face Australians as they use this technology in weird and wonderful ways.

What are the rights of a child whose mother—and it could be a scientist; don’t think all scientists are male; a woman will go to extreme lengths to have a child—took the nucleus out of, say, a skin cell of hers, impregnated her eggs and gave birth to herself? Whether it is by therapeutic cloning or somatic nuclear cell transfer—call it what you will—the ability for a woman to have a child independently of a man is just around the corner. How will we as a society react to that?

My husband often complains that, in our family, his needs are irrelevant; however, this legislation makes men totally redundant. We said no to cloning four years ago. Let us say no again—at least until we have had more time to consider the consequences of this legislation and this technology elsewhere in the world. In the meantime, scientists can continue embryonic stem cell research on surplus IVF eggs, as provided for under existing legislation. Let us just wait and see. What is the rush towards ‘Repo Arnie’?