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Wednesday, 6 December 2006
Page: 127


Mr MICHAEL FERGUSON (6:31 PM) —by leave—I move amendments (1) and (2):

(1) Schedule 1, item 7, page 10 (lines 17 to 27), omit section 23A, substitute:

23A Offence—using precursor cells from a human embryo or a human fetus to create a human embryo, or developing such an embryo

Maximum penalty: Imprisonment for 10 years.

The second reading stage of this debate has been concluded. The House, in principle, has agreed to the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006. Accepting that result, it is appropriate, fair and reasonable for a member to move amendments which could do one of two things: either improve this bill while it is in this House or make it less bad, depending on your perspective.

Mr Speaker, through you, I appeal to my colleagues, my fellow members of the House of Representatives, to look once more into their conscience, to reflect on what their communities would be looking for in their home electorates and to challenge themselves, as I have, about the prospect of returning home to our electorates, eye-balling our constituents and admitting that the opportunity to remove a very ugly section of this bill was not taken.

The fact of the matter is that the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006 contains the exact recommendation reflected in recommendation 27 of the Lockhart review. If passed as it now stands, this would allow the creation of embryos using an aborted baby girl’s immature eggs. This is presently prohibited by law. If this bill passes as it stands that will change. My amendments preserve the current prohibition on the use of precursor cells from a foetus for the creation of an embryo. None of us should be left in any doubt about this—it is to maintain a current prohibition.

In plain terms, if this bill succeeds in this House without amendment, it will be quite possible in the future under Australian law for an aborted female foetus to become the mother, if you like, of an embryo which will itself eventually be destroyed by research. This proposition has been rejected by the British parliament. It has been rejected in the United States, by former President Clinton. The issue has resurfaced as recently as 2003 in Israel, where Dr Tal Biron-Shental announced that her team had successfully conducted work on maturing egg follicles from the ovarian tissue of seven aborted human foetuses ranging from 22 to 33 weeks gestation—very late term.

That report led to widespread condemnation from around the world of the proposal that these eggs could be used for IVF treatment and, indeed, further research. Eggs could only be derived from aborted foetuses of at least 16 weeks gestation. The method of abortion would have to result in the foetal body being delivered intact and as near to alive as possible in order to harvest the ovarian tissue while it was still fresh, and immediately frozen for its subsequent use. Mr Speaker, I apologise for the graphic nature of that description, but it can be made no more politely than that.

My friend and colleague the member for Moore, in his speech in the second reading debate on this bill, addressed this question. He said:

Human foetal tissue is already accessible to Australian researchers and has been available since 1980.

He went on to say:

This is simply an extension of existing legal access to foetal tissue already occurring in Australia and in other countries in the world.

It is true that there is already legal access to some foetal tissue for some research purposes in Australia and, indeed, in other countries. However, there is a significant, profound medical and moral difference between using foetal tissue such as bone, pancreas or liver tissue in laboratory research and taking precursor cells—that is, cells with a reproductive capacity from an aborted foetus—not just for the purpose of some weighing or analytical chemical composition research but for the purpose of creating an embryo. It is a quantum shift in Australian science which is being proposed today.

I urge my colleagues to accept these amendments. We will of course, as we all must, accept that this House has in principle agreed to this bill. I am disappointed about that, but as the member for Bass I take my right to speak up and, if I can, to salvage some aspect of this bill and to have the ugliest aspect removed. I believe it is consistent with the reasonable expectations of the people from my community. As hard as it is to speak on behalf of such a large number of people, I believe it is fair to say that this expectation would be reflected around Australia. I commend the amendments to the House.