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Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Page: 6144


Senator HARRADINE (9:12 PM) —I move amendment (1) on sheet 2697 revised:

(1) Clause 8, page 4 (after line 16), after the definition of Commonwealth authority, insert:

embryo means:

(i) the cell formed by the fusion of an ovum and a sperm and the organism that develops from that cell; or

(ii) any cell or organism, however formed, that may be distinguished from ordinary cells by having a potential, if placed in a suitable environment, to develop in an integrated way, similar to the potential of the cell formed by the fusion of an ovum and a sperm.

This amendment is simply to try to make sure that the legislation operates properly. The definition of an `embryo' is in fact needed to give effect to the intentions of the bill as follows. What the bill does—and honourable senators will have a copy of the bill before them—is offer the following definition, which states:

human embryo means a live embryo that has a human genome or an altered human genome and that has been developing for less than 8 weeks since the appearance of 2 pro-nuclei or the initiation of its development by other means.

The problem here is one of circularity. The definition says that a `human embryo means a live embryo'. In legislation, surely one cannot define a term by using the same term. A human embryo means a live embryo. That leaves open the question: what is an embryo that is formed by other means in the broad range of possibilities for experimenting with somatic cells, germ cells and their constituent parts? When could a court conclude that, as a matter of law involving severe penalties, what was formed was no longer just cells but had become an embryo `initiated by other means'? The definition gives no clarity as to what essentially a human embryo is or what conditions are required before one must conclude, as a matter of law, that such an embryo has come to be. This would create legal uncertainty for scientists and, more importantly, it would make the prohibition in relation to human embryos initiated by other means unenforceable because of the uncertainty as to whether experimentation had resulted in such an embryo being formed.

Quite frankly, Minister, that would seem to be contrary to the bill's intention. What is needed is an additional definition of `embryo' to complement the existing definition of `human embryo'. I am not altering anything here; I am simply attempting to add a definition of `embryo' so that when the bill defines `human embryo' it says that a `human embryo means a live embryo' and it uses the same term. I am proposing that `embryo' means:

(i) the cell formed by the fusion of an ovum and a sperm and the organism that develops from that cell; or

(ii) any cell or organism, however formed, that may be distinguished from ordinary cells by having a potential, if placed in a suitable environment, to develop in an integrated way, similar to the potential of the cell formed by the fusion of an ovum and a sperm.

It would seem to me to be very desirable not to just close your eyes to this, because it has important implications for the scientist as much as for anyone else, as a scientist would surely be unsure of their position unless this definition was included. When there are very serious penalties in the legislation, I put it to you, Minister, through the chair and to all honourable senators listening to this debate, that this is a reasonable thing to do.