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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6818


Senator JACINTA COLLINS (1:13 PM) —by leave—I move an amendment to opposition amendment (1):

Omit “attachment”, substitute “implantation”.

So it becomes very clear that we are talking about where the suitability of the embryo is determined only on the basis of its biological fitness for implantation. We are now not going down the path of its biological fitness for any other purpose. We are not talking about its biological fitness because it could be, if it were assessed or examined, identified that there was a gene or some other issue related to its fitness besides its ability or its fitness for implantation. In this way we avoid in this loophole going down the path of some of those very complex and difficult arguments about whether we should be determining the status of one embryo as regards another, aside from the issue of whether it is, in a sense, a viable life. We explore those issues in many other ethical debates, but in this particular case I really think that that is the crux of what this exemption was designed to achieve. We were told, `We are having an exemption and that's okay because we are really only going to use those embryos, those lives, that would not have been viable into the future.'

In thinking this through further, I was thinking that perhaps the example is that, if you were looking at whether to store or freeze these embryos, they might be the ones that do not end up being frozen because the determination is made that they were not ever going to be able to result in a viable pregnancy. These then, under these amendments, would be the only ones that would be available for diagnostic investigation. So these two amendments make the exemption much tighter. I think that is quite consistent with the advice from the Australian Health Ethics Committee. In fact, before some people get too caught up in exactly the words that the Australian Health Ethics Committee used, I have already noted that their first suggestion was simply that—a suggestion. It was not in inverted commas as the exact words that they would suggest, unlike their second suggestion.

But, if you read the next paragraph, they say, `In addition, diagnostic investigations could become an activity requiring a licence.' This is not being proposed here. We are still accepting that an exemption could exist—albeit a very tight and strict exemption—but, unlike this additional issue raised by the Australian Health Ethics Committee, we accept that other problems could develop, if you go back and put them into the strict licensing regime. These two amendments accept that an exemption can occur but propose that it be as tight as possible and draw on the advice of the Australian Health Ethics Committee. I have sought to add some additional meaning to their first point that the unsuitability of the embryo is determined only on the basis of its biology—for example, the poor physical appearance of the embryo—but I have sought to express that in a way which gives clearer effect to the meaning, which is that we are talking about those embryos which, were they placed in the body of a woman, would be unlikely to lead to a successful pregnancy and it is only in those circumstances that they should be available for research. I will be interested to hear the discussion on these amendments. While I understand that there is some support for Senator Nettle's amendment, I commend these amendments to the chamber. I think this is the more appropriate way to go, and I will be interested to hear senators' responses to these amendments.