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Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Page: 6069

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL (1:40 PM) —I rise to speak today on the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002. This legislation is about many things. It is about our greatest hopes and our deepest fears. It is about what we want to be and about what we are scared might be. It is about science and it is about miracles. But most fundamentally it is about good sense and compassion—the good sense to try and the compassion to want to. It is not easy legislation. No-one says it is. But surely as a parliament our role is to use good sense and compassion to bring about change that will benefit us all. This legislation, of all legislation, must be above the ugly machinations of day-to-day politics. It is legislation that calls for clear heads and open hearts. It is legislation that calls out for the question: `How can we not?'

I am a senator, but I am also a father. As a father, I have watched a tiny child fight against odds so cruelly stacked that there never was a chance. Back when my daughter was born—and died—there was no chance. Simple as that: the end of her story. But now we are in the year 2002 and there is a chance. Now we stand on the brink of a chance, a chance so big that babies like mine—and children like yours—could be set free from the pain and suffering that once were deemed to be their only fate. I am a big man and I can be a tough man, but I am not big or tough enough to turn my back on that—to turn my back on those who are suffering and to tell them and their families they cannot have their chance, to tell them we will not let the research go ahead. I cannot do that, because it would be wrong. This is the place— and this has to be the place—where we do what is right.

I believe it is the women and men who use IVF who should decide what should happen to their embryos. If their choice is to allow those embryos to be used for medical research under the strict ethical guidelines proposed under this bill, then that is a legitimate and potentially lifesaving choice that all of us in this chamber should honour. It is not a choice that they will make lightly, but it is choice that will be made by those who value life so deeply that they have turned to science to help them create it. I have no doubt that it will be a deeply respectful decision.

Just as the science of IVF has eased the emotional pain of those who would otherwise have been childless, it also has the potential to ease the physical pain of those with debilitating illness. How can we not explore that? What gives us the right to decide not to? In fact, submissions to the Senate inquiry into this bill made by such groups as the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation confirmed my instinct to vote for this bill. Alzheimers's disease, for instance, affects more than 300,000 Australians and is the focus of stem cell research that must be continued. It is a similar story with motor neurone and spinal cord injuries. Diabetes is the world's fastest growing disease, ahead of HIV-AIDS, and is another disease earmarked for ongoing stem cell research. It affects more than one million Australians. It is a disease, common and widespread, that, if cured, would ease the lives of tens of millions of Australians in the future.

What stands out, though, in all the arguments against such medical research is the fact there is little that cannot be separated from a clear religious or ideological opposition to other medical practices, such as the IVF program in general or abortion. This moment in medical history cannot rest on creed or ideology; it must rest, as I said before, on good sense and compassion. There have been hundreds of letters sent to my office and almost all of them have centred on the argument that human life begins at the moment of conception and that the rights of the embryo must be placed above the rights of all others. For example, they have said:

If we go ahead with embryonic stem cell legislation, we are no better than Hitler.

And they have said:

Destruction of even a two-cell embryo is murder.

One constituent writes:

The debate is based on two fundamental questions: when does life begin? And what values do we place on human life at its very beginning?

I submit that this assessment is incorrect. This debate is about much more than when life begins; it is about life per se. It is about life's quality, its value and its spirit. It is also about death, death from illnesses for which medical science might hold the key. Those who oppose this legislation say that to pass it would be to devalue life. I find that staggering.

Let us look in our broad social context at the extent to which this legislation is about the value we place on life. When I think of the value, or lack of value, we place on life in all its forms and at its various stages, it is certainly not the rights of frozen cells that come to mind. Instead, I see the two billion people in the world who live on less than one dollar a day. I see the tens of thousands of children who die literally every single day— today included—from curable diseases such as diarrhoea and measles. I see the millions of innocent civilians killed and maimed in the more than 100 military conflicts raging across the world as we speak. Do we value them? The answer is no. I cannot see why, in a world where life is so cheap, so disposable, so undervalued, we would fight to protect the so-called rights of two-cell embryos above the rights of all those others. I do not understand how the line has been so drawn.

I certainly respect the opinions of those who disagree, and I acknowledge that views on this issue are held strongly. Mine are. But I cannot just abide by the notion that protecting the rights of embryos is what defines us as a moral and compassionate society, what makes us ethically pure. There are, to put it quite bluntly, far greater and more immediate human rights priorities, and most of us do not give a damn about them. That is not to say that the cells that ultimately become babies and grown adults are not alive. But it is incorrect to say that they take the form of a human being physically or mentally at the stage these cells would be used for research. They are not yet individualised, are not yet a growing body part. They are unformed. Their potential for human life is unrealised.

To argue then that a small number of cells, as miraculous a cluster as they are, is equal to a three-month-old foetus, as some members have done in the course of this debate, ignores the scientific reality. More importantly, I believe it ignores the personal reality of pregnancy. Those couples who choose to undertake the very difficult procedure that is IVF face enormous pressures. The decision about whether to take part in a program that is riddled with pain and frustration is an agonising one. A failed pregnancy at three days is, for these couples, very different from a failed pregnancy at 90 days. For the couples who have embryos left over—either because all their attempts have failed or, more joyously, because they have worked and they have their baby—the opportunity to donate their surplus embryos for what is potentially the good of humanity would be wonderfully satisfying. This legislation would provide them with that access. It would allow adults, adults who have determinedly pursued the gift of human life, to decide whether their genetic material can be used for medical research—not for sinister medical experimentation but for medical research—the existing advancement of which no-one would ever want reversed.

In addition to permitting and regulating the use of surplus embryos from assisted reproductive technology, as agreed by all the states and territories in April this year, this bill also proposes to ban human cloning. If we are honest, that is what frightens the ill-informed here. Human cloning would perhaps be the logical end point of unregulated cultivation of embryonic stem cells. But as it is not the intention of this bill to do more than assist those whose medical conditions might be addressed by research using stem cells, the possibility of human cloning is not—I stress, not—a possible result of this legislation.

Human cloning simply invites the regeneration of eugenics as a scientific field. The promotion or rejection of children with particular characteristics in an arbitrary manner, as would be possible with cloning, is something we, as a society that values and respects all of its members, must reject. Cloning must never be an option. As a society, we are absolutely agreed on that. But to let our fear of that prevent such tightly regulated legislation as this which is proposed would be to throw the metaphorical baby out with the bathwater.

The fact that passions run so deep around this issue is a good thing. It means that we are all being forced to think long and hard about the implications of this bill and their ramifications for us all. Let us face it: the ongoing research that would result from the passing of this bill might not hold all the answers—it might hit brick walls; it might not deliver all we want it to—but we will never know unless we try.

Medical science has delivered us some of our greatest gifts. The only tragedy is that those gifts have not been shared equally among the first and third worlds. That must also become one of our priorities. But they are gifts that have given life and hope, immeasurable gifts which I believe it is our duty to go on giving. For my part, I am not prepared to say no. I do not have either the courage or the conviction to say no. Instead, I want to be able to look in the eye those kids who are suffering and those families who are suffering and tell them we are going to do all we can to find the answers. History, I am confident, will record its thanks to us.