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Deputy Prime Minister and Premiers hold differing views on stem cell research.

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JOHN HIGHFIELD: The battlelines have been drawn for the arguments on a national decision to allow scientists to use spare human embryos to find genetic solutions for medical problems. And with the Council of Australian Governments, COAG, meeting tomorrow to thrash the issue out, the debate is moving well beyond the pitching of church against state. We’ll be hearing the Prime Minister’s view on the subject shortly, but New South Wales and other state governments have warned that they’ll legislatively go it alone if the Commonwealth decides against.


But things got a whole lot tougher this morning with the Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, following the churches and declaring that it could be the thin edge of the wedge, with embryonic harvesting for purely commercial reasons just a step away. And groups like the Australian Family Association and the World Federation of Doctors who Respect Human Life have come out today claiming that embryonic stem cell research is already obsolete because of advances in the successful use of adult stem cells to treat serious diseases. Unlike the adult research, the embryonic research, of course, demands the destruction of the embryo used.


Our first report comes from Canberra, and our chief political correspondent Catherine McGrath.


CATHERINE McGRATH: John Anderson, the Deputy Prime Minister, has today weighed into the stem cell debate, stating unequivocally his concern based on the argument of the right to life of an embryo. He’s backing the concern of the churches.


JOHN ANDERSON: I have a very high view of human life. Obviously I’d like to see research dedicated to relief of pain and suffering but I don’t want to see us on the slippery road of commodification of human life, devaluing of human life, where we might, if we’re not careful but we continue on a slippery slide—and I think we are on one—towards a more utilitarian view of life, where we’ll find ourselves developing embryos, potential lives, to be harvested for the benefit of others. We’re not at that point yet, but I don’t want to see us on the slippery slide where we are on it.


CATHERINE McGRATH: Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson’s view is a nonsense argument according to Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie.


PETER BEATTIE: It’s Luddite thinking that does not have a place in modern Australia and it is simply indefensible as far as I am concerned. It’s a rubbish argument. It is dishonest, it is illogical and I don’t see any morality or ethics in it. We have IVF programs now which are law in this country. There are surplus embryos produced and they die. What we’re saying is those embryos that are going to die, they should be used to prolong life and save life.


CATHERINE McGRATH: The states are in agreement that when they sit down tomorrow with Prime Minister John Howard at the Premiers Conference in Canberra, the recommendation should be that stem cell research be allowed to go ahead. New South Wales Premier, Bob Carr.


BOB CARR: My position has always been strong, but I’ve spoken to a number of the other Premiers and I confirm that they all agree with me, and that is that there can be no banning of embryonic stem cell research. And if the Commonwealth moves in that direction, then there will be action by all the states to set up a model system of regulation applying in every other jurisdiction. The Commonwealth will be isolated.


REPORTER: That being the case, it doesn’t really matter what the Prime Minister thinks, does it?


BOB CARR: It is desirable by any test to have a single national system of regulation. That’s the most desirable thing.


CATHERINE McGRATH: The argument now is really over how much regulation the Commonwealth will recommend. John Anderson favours very strong restrictions because he fears the door will be open to the harvesting of stem cells for research, but within Cabinet others have argued that because what is being considered now is only the use of embryos that have already been created under the IVF program and would otherwise be destroyed, that the research should be allowed to continue.


On AM this morning Victorian Premier Steve Bracks said if federal legislation was introduced to ban research then he would oppose it.


STEVE BRACKS: We will legislate in Victoria whatever the circumstance is. We will legislate if it is legislation to permit this procedure because it currently cannot go on in Victoria on surplus embryos. We have to import that from stem cell lines overseas. We will legislate anyway if there is agreement at COAG. If there is not we will still legislate as well.


JOHN HIGHFIELD: That was the Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks there with Catherine McGrath in Canberra