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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7199


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (6:45 PM) —I will be opposing Senator Harradine's amendment. It is seeking to make it a requirement that excess ART embryos in the custody of a licence holder be returned to the ART practitioner from whom they were obtained should the licence be suspended or revoked. It ignores the fundamental principle of the consent of the couple, which is integral to the current bill, as well as to ART clinical practice. The amendment requires that the embryos be returned to the clinic irrespective of the wishes of the couple who have already made the decision to donate the embryos to research. Under the bill, a couple can independently decide that they no longer require their ART embryos for the purposes of achieving pregnancy and then decide to donate their embryos for research. They would then decide whether to give consent to use their embryos in a particular licensed research project. As part of that process of obtaining consent, the couple will be given a number of alternatives to consider. One option will be to donate their excess embryos to research. Another will be to let their excess embryos succumb.

I want to be very clear on one point. As part of ART practice, couples must make difficult decisions about what is to be done with their embryos once they have finished their program. It is something that should not be taken lightly. Thousands of embryos succumb every year as part of the normal ART practice. I understand that the figure in South Australia alone is some 4,000 a year. The decision to allow an embryo to succumb is made by people often at the end of their ART treatment. Once a couple have made the decision to donate their embryos to research, I think that it is problematic to try and return these embryos to the couple—which is the only reason I can see for Senator Harradine requiring the ART clinic to take them back. Couples will make what they think is a final decision, only to be told later that the decision was not given effect to and that they have to make more decisions about their embryos. I am also concerned that Senator Harradine's amendment appears to impose a continuing legal obligation on the clinics, even though those clinics may not be licence holders in relation to those embryos and have no existing relationship with those embryos. It is not apparent what these clinics would be expected to do. I also note that, in many cases, it will be the ART clinic which will be doing the research under a licence and it is not clear how Senator Harradine's amendment would work in that situation. For those reasons, I will not be supporting the amendment.