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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6811


Senator HOGG (12:32 PM) —I move amendment (1) on sheet 2720:

(1) Clause 9, page 8 (lines 1 to 4), omit paragraph (a), substitute:

(a) each such person has given written authority for the use of the human embryo for the sole purpose of harvesting the human embryonic stem cells consistent with the matters contained in paragraph 21(4)(b) and other than a purpose relating to ART treatment of the woman concerned, and the authority is in force at that time; or

The amendment proposes to change clause 9(2)(a) on the meaning of excess ART embryo on page 8 of the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002. The specific changes are, firstly, to insert before the word `embryo' the word `human' so that we are dealing with a human embryo and, secondly, to replace the word `purpose' with the phrase `sole purpose of harvesting the human embryonic stem cells consistent with the matters contained in paragraph 21(4)(b)'. Paragraph (b) of clause 21(4) goes to the issue of licensing. In relation to the licensing system, division 4, 21(4)(b) states:

... the NHMRC Licensing Committee must have regard to the following:

(b) the likelihood of significant advance in knowledge, or improvement in technologies for treatment, as a result of the use of excess ART embryos proposed in the application, which could not reasonably be achieved by other means ...

The reason for my putting this amendment up in the first instance is that I believe the bill should reflect in its entirety the COAG agreement. I believe that the COAG agreement was specifically based on the issue of embryonic stem cells. If one changes clause 9 to read as I propose, it then relates to a specific use of embryonic stem cells as opposed to any other purpose that ART embryos may be considered for. That was never the purpose in the first instance of the COAG agreement. The COAG agreement was made in this area principally on the issue of surplus IVF embryos being made available for embryonic stem cell research and not for any other purpose. There was nothing in the debate that led to the COAG agreement or the debate that led to the bills that are now before this chamber, save for the Andrews report and the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee report, which mentioned the issue of excess ART embryos and their purpose—and their purpose being not other than for implantation but for research purposes. Those research purposes were for embryonic stem cells and not for a raft of other purposes which became obvious in the inquiry before the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee.

I will refer specifically to evidence cited in Senator Harradine's report to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee. In Senator Harradine's additional comments, he made reference to evidence given by Dr Morris of the NHMRC. Senator Harradine referred to the additional matters that now seem to be taken into account when one is considering the use of the excess ART embryos. These excess ART embryos, as I said in my speech in the second reading debate, were created in the first instance for the purpose of IVF. They were created for the purpose of the creation of life in a set of circumstances where a couple was unable to produce offspring. Whether one agrees with that or not, that was the stated purpose for which the IVF program was put in place. The IVF program was not put into place for other purposes, such as producing a by-product which can then be used in medical research. Whilst I am opposed to the bill, it looks as though, based on the numbers in this place, it is going to get up. In that case, one must look at using the excess ART embryos for the stated purpose, as I believe it was originally intended—and that was as a source of embryonic stem cells. On page 192 of the report of the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, Senator Harradine outlined, from the evidence given by Dr Morris, a range of other issues which were to be considered for the use of these embryos:

The range of embryo research permitted by the Bill includes using human embryos to examine the effectiveness of new culture media used in assisted reproductive technology (ART) practice, to assist in understanding embryonic development and fertilisation, training clinicians in microsurgical ART techniques, transport, observation and storage of embryos, micromanipulation, lasering, cutting and dissecting, studies in genetic makeup and expression, quality assurance testing to ensure that pre-implantation diagnostic tests give accurate results, drug testing including toxicology studies on human embryos as well as the destructive extraction of embryonic stem cells.

That far exceeds the original proposal, as one understood from the debate surrounding the COAG agreement. Whilst this debate gets to the use of those excess ART embryos, one does not want to see that it is just going to be open slather, allowing these embryos to be used in a whole range of research areas that were not necessarily even advocated, or actively advocated, when this debate was taking place. One only needs to turn to the COAG communique itself and one will find that reference is made strongly to the issue of stem cell research—the focus not being on anything else other than human embryonic stem cell research. If one looks at paragraphs 6 to 8 of the communique, in the appendix to the report, one finds this:

6. The following principles should underpin nationally-consistent legislation:

6.1 legislation should ensure appropriate ethical oversight of research involving embryos based on nationally-consistent standards ...

So we are looking to nationally consistent standards for the research on these embryos. The communique goes on to say:

6.2 the nationally-consistent standards should be clear, detailed and describe the ethical issues to be taken into account, research which may be permitted and the conditions upon which it may be permitted ...

Given the way the current clause 9(2)(a) is framed, there could be a wide range of purposes for which the excess ART embryos could be used. That is the last thing that one would want to countenance, as far as I am concerned. I believe that clearly the issue was included for there to be a consistent approach, an approach for research. Whilst I do not necessarily subscribe to the research myself, the research would take place on the excess ART embryos. We will come to the issue of the limited number of excess ART embryos later on in this debate. The communique says, at paragraph 8:

Research with existing stem cell lines will be permitted ...

It goes on to say, at paragraph 10:

The ban on the development of embryos for purposes other than for assisted reproduction will be maintained and reviewed within three years taking into account the implications for therapeutic use of embryonic stem cells (as detailed in the Health Ministers' report, Chapter 4).

I am seeking with my amendment simply to ensure that there is the proper focus of the COAG agreement. The minister may well tell me that all of these other things are going to be excluded. But, from what I have read and heard, I do not believe that that is the case. I believe that there is a real necessity to ensure that the sole purpose, as I state in my amendment, is for the harvesting of human embryonic stem cells consistent with matters contained in paragraph 21(4)(b), where there is a real chance and a significant likelihood that there will be an advance made as a result of the research. In other words, I am not about stopping the research; I want to see a proper definition put in place which will ensure the respect and the dignity that is appropriate to the excess ART embryos. I commend the amendment to the Senate.