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Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Page: 6064

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) (1:11 PM) —I will support the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002. I do not think the issues are easy, but in this place we have to make decisions and we have to live with those decisions and with our conscience. Scientists have put to us the argument that embryonic stem cell research offers a genuine hope to advance scientific understanding that could eventually provide treatments of such afflictions as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and diabetes— in other words, there are potentially huge benefits for humankind. Not all scientists agree; others say that there are substitutes such as adult stem cell potential. So the scientific case, although genuinely put, is not undisputed. There is, of course, no way of settling the scientific issues in absolute terms. The other side of the argument is a moral one: that embryos are human life and no potential benefits to third parties can justify the destruction of human life; that every individual, even in the earliest form of creation, is sacred; and that to seek some utilitarian benefit from such a life, no matter how well intentioned, is therefore unethical.

This legislation does not allow unfettered destruction. We are, in fact, talking about surplus embryos left over from in-vitro fertilisation procedures, embryos that are no longer required and would otherwise be destroyed. If the argument were to create embryos for the purpose of research, I might have come down on the other side. But this legislation does not allow the creation of embryos for research. If the embryos which are the subject of this legislation are to be destroyed, I find it hard to see the sin in seeking to achieve some humanitarian benefit from their short existence. I think those who oppose the creation of these embryos in the first place have a stronger case in terms of consistency. But, like most in this chamber, I have not objected to the processes that create these embryos in the hope of producing a healthy child for otherwise infertile couples. I have accepted that the benefits outweigh the cost. In many ways, I think the more difficult moral question is in the earlier process—and that, of course, is not before the chamber—which results in surplus embryos in the first place that are to be subsequently destroyed. But, as I said, that is not the question before the chamber.

This legislation applies only to embryos existing before 5 April this year which would otherwise be destroyed and where the parents have consented. It will be further reviewed in two years against developments in relation to assisted reproduction technology, medical and scientific research, the potential therapeutic application of such research and community standards. I think this strict regulatory regime is important but, within it, I think the research, with the potential benefits it might bring to the sick and suffering, is in fact justified.