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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7179


Senator STOTT DESPOJA (4:47 PM) —I certainly thank Senator Campbell for his contribution. He raised some good points, including the notion of free trade—that is, the free exchange of materials—which I suspect he might get questioned on in a moment. I think that is an interesting point to put on the record. In relation to Senator Boswell's comments—and I think once again there has been reference to examples that were raised in the previous debate on a similar amendment—I want to put on the record the proposition that embryonic stem cells are in fact totipotent. I will use the definition in the House of Representatives human cloning report. It states that totipotent `describes a cell or structure that can produce all cell types including placentas'. That means one that is capable of giving rise to an organism. That notion is not proven and that was the point I made in my contribution to the debate on Senator Boswell's previous amendment.

The evidence that we have to date suggests overwhelmingly that that is not the case. As I alluded to when speaking about the previous version of this amendment, I acknowledge that there is a case of mice embryonic stem cells giving rise to an embryo, and I described some of the circumstances involved in that at the time. It is very important to remember that in this experiment, as I pointed out last time, the ES cells were on a bed of embryos. It is important to note that we do not know exactly what it was that gave rise to the embryo, whether it was the embryos or whether it was the ES cells. I think it is important to note that, in the evidence to the committee, Dr Tonti-Filippini qualified very carefully any claims that this experiment proves that ES cells are totipotent.

The point that I want to emphasise is that the whole proposition is highly speculative and I suppose we acknowledge that, by virtue of it being an innovative field, science is speculative. Presumably we want to guard against things that we perceive as dangerous, and we want to regulate for things that may or may not happen. But I think this is a very difficult and inappropriate area at the moment. I think that, if there is evidence that ES cells are totipotent, we should come back and amend the legislation. But I do not think this highly speculative proposition and discussion should result in the amendments before us. I do not mean to have `Groundhog Day' on this matter. I understand that there was some allusion to the comments that were previously made and the examples that were put on record, but I advise the chamber that the Democrats will not be supporting the amendment.