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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 7060


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (9:29 PM) —I did not say `open the door'. I was indicating that there are methods of storing embryos. It may be in animal research that it is found that there is a more appropriate medium for storing and freezing an embryo, for example. I presume that it would be tested on animal models. But at some point it would have to be demonstrated that it was more effective than a former method, and I think that there would be people involved in the ART project who would prefer to have a technique for storing embryos that reduces the risk of any changes in those embryos. That is the sort of example I was giving. I would have concern if there were frivolous testing, and I think the safeguards are there. That is why I have indicated that we have safeguards in place to ensure that there is not frivolous—I have forgotten the other word I used—research.

The other thing that I will repeat—and I am not going to get up again; we have gone over this and so much has been said which is relevant to this—is that people making a donation of an embryo will be counselled. If they are not from an English-speaking background, counselling will be given in their own language. They can put restrictions on the way in which that embryo is used—for example, that it is only used for ART and that it cannot be used for any experimentation. They can put very strict controls on the way that excess embryo is used, or they can decide not to use it at all. I keep going back to the point that, if people feel so strongly about it, there will not be an excess of embryos available for embryonic stem cell research. If what you are telling us is that, if the whole community do not want embryonic stem cell research, then there will not be any excess embryos, because people will not give permission. We must go back to the fact that people will have to give permission and will be counselled beforehand. Every attempt will be made to make sure that they understand it. They can put any restriction they like on the use of that embryo or, if it will be used for experimental research, on how it will be used. So I think we have to get that on the record.

This goes back to what I was saying before. I say one thing and it is interpreted another way. But I think it would be totally inappropriate to hinder the fact that we may be able to produce embryos that are less likely to have some sort of problem as a result of the freezing technique, because of the medium in which they are frozen. If it can be demonstrated in animal models that there is a better method for doing it, it would then have to be tested in the human model, with the results demonstrating that it is not detrimental to the embryo. But people can make that decision as to whether they would permit their embryo to be subjected to any form of research. They might say, `I only want it for ART and not for stem cell research.' So if people feel as strongly as people in this chamber indicate that they do, there will not be any embryos; there will be none. All the women who have had IVF will say, `I am not going to donate my embryos.' So if it is as serious and of such a great concern as the other side is indicating, then that is what will happen. I think that is probably most unrealistic. If people decide to donate their embryo, they will give consent—informed, counselled consent—about the extent of the use of their embryo.

I have indicated before the reasons why I will not be supporting this amendment. I am not going to be subjected to this harassment that I have to answer every single question. When I am sitting here not answering, it is because I believe sometimes that I have answered it this morning, last night or yesterday morning or that it has been answered in the committee. I have been reasonable. When I have thought there was a reasonable point and I had not answered it in a previous part of this debate, I have got up and answered it. But I am not going to get up and keep repeating and repeating and repeating my arguments, nor am I going to be told that I do not really believe what I am saying. I am concerned that there not be frivolous testing, but I believe that we have sufficient safeguards in there. People will say, `You are not right.' That is their privilege and that is their right. But, I am sorry: I believe, as Senator Evans has indicated, that we cannot monitor and approve every experiment that is undertaken. We have put a structure in place— Senator Evans used a very good word: `architecture'—to ensure that that building is sound. I have just extended the analogy a little further. I am confident—and maybe you will say that is misguided confidence; so be it. I have said what I had to say about this amendment and I will not be supporting it.