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Senator discusses her proposed Private Member's Bill which follows the recommendations of the Lockhart review on stem cell research.

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Wednesday 16 August 2006

Senator discusses her proposed Private Member's Bill which follows the recommendations of the Lockhart review on stem cell research


MARK COLVIN: It's now almost cer tain that there will be a conscience vote on stem cell research in the Federal Parliament. 


The former Health Minister Kay Patterson has decided to introduce her own Private Member's Bill which would extend embryonic stem cell research to include therapeutic cloning. 


Her Bill follows the recommendations of the Lockhart review, which the Government has rejected until now. 


As Health Minister Senator Patterson led debate on the original stem cell Bill which passed through Parliament a few years ago. 


But she now thinks the evidence to allow a broadening of the research is so strong that she's started drafting her own Bill. 


Senator Patterson is in our Canberra Studio and speaking to Alexandra Kirk. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Senator Patterson, good evening.  


KAY PATTERSON: Good evening, Alex.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Democrat Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, one of your colleagues in the Senate, has already flagged that she was planning to introduce a Private Member's Bill to allow for therapeutic cloning and was seeking cross-party support for it.  


Why scuttle that by putting up your own Bill? 


KAY PATTERSON: Well, I took the last Bill through the Chamber and I have to say I have advised the Prime Minister of my intention to do this today, and I think that's important that I do that. I would have liked to have had the opportunity to inform my colleagues but Senator Stott Despoja's Bill has pre-empted that a little.  


I believe that, having taken the last Bill through a 47-hour debate, that I have as much right to put a Private Member's Bill in as Natasha Stott Despoja. I believe it will closely reflect the concerns of my colleagues and, being in the party in Government, I think I can, as far as possible, take into account the concerns of many of my colleagues - not all of them, but many of them.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: When you told the Prime Minister today of your plan, how did he react? 


KAY PATTERSON: Well, I have a good working relationship with the Prime Minister and I went to see him. I thought it was inappropriate that I had asked for a Bill to be prepared and not advise him.  


He indicated that, you know, like he always does that he respects the opinion of all his colleagues and, while supportive of my doing it, not necessarily supportive of the Bill.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Will it ever see the light of day? - because Private Member's Bills have a long history of disappearing into the ether. Most never get debated, let alone voted on. So has he given any indication that the Bill will be debated and voted on? 


KAY PATTERSON: Yes, well, I've had two Private Member's Bills in an Opposition to get rid of the compulsory retirement age, and Labor would never bring them on and I think that was to their discredit.  


I think that if this Bill is a Bill that looks at the Lockhart recommendations and takes them into account, not necessarily following every recommendation but uses them as a guide, I will do that in consultation with my colleagues to ensure that as far as possible the Bill has a very strong likelihood of coming up.  


I know it's a very difficult thing for everyone. It's, you know, I don't find these debates easy but I think the community has to have them. We did indicate when we put the Bill through in 2002 there'd be a review. We had a review with a range of experts.  


And I have to say, the first 11 recommendations of the Lockhart Report, in the first 11, nine of them tell you what you can't do and what you shouldn't do.  


So I think some of the claims that have been made that this will lead to a slippery slope and, you know, there'll be all sorts of cloning and possibly cloning humans, is not right. If people read the Lockhart Report carefully, there are very strict recommendations about what you shouldn't do. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: So how far down the track of cloning would you foresee in your Bill? 


KAY PATTERSON: Well, the Lockhart Report recommends that somatic cell transfer, that's when you take an egg and you take out the... denucleate it, take out the DNA material and place in it, say, skin from a... nuclear material from the skin of an adult or a child, that it should not go beyond 14 days.  


They stipulate it should not be implanted in an animal. It shouldn't be implanted in a uterus. There are very strict guidelines and I'd be adhering to those guidelines. I may even think they should be stricter. I'll work on that as I proceed through the Bill.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Some of your colleagues say that life is more important than democracy and they view that therapeutic cloning is the beginning of a slippery slope, that it's not even needed because work on medical research using adult stem cells is all that's need.  


KAY PATTERSON: Well there is a debate in that area... 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Are they right, in your view? 


KAY PATTERSON: Well, I think that we have to be careful that it doesn't go, extend beyond what society, what we as a community accept. We have to do it bit by bit and there'll be a point when people say, that's a bridge too far. I don't think we've reached a bridge too far, and there will be a point.  


But you know, I've just been looking back at blood and when they were actually looking at blood and blood transfusions, when they first did those in the 17th century the churches and the Parliament restricted that for one-and-a-half centuries. So there's been a history of difficulty in looking at this in medical research.  


I respect the opinion of my colleagues and I think the debate will be determined in the Parliament.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: What did the Prime Minister tell you? How did he react and what guarantee did he give? Did he give any guarantee that your Bill will in fact be debated and voted on? 


KAY PATTERSON: Well, I wouldn't, if I were the Prime Minister, give me a guarantee if I hadn't seen the Bill. I believe he trusts me that the Bill will be sensible and will be measured and considered, but I wouldn't expect him to give me a guarantee.  


So, what I'm saying is, and I think we should have the debate in the party room as well, but given the way in which other people were suggesting they might bring in a Bill or they might join in another Bill, I thought it was time for me to do something about it, given my strong stand on this.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Has he indicated his preparedness to support it? 


KAY PATTERSON: No. He hasn't seen the Bill. And I think, with all due respect, he should see the Bill and then he will make a decision as to whether it should go forward.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Coalition is still very divided on allowing therapeutic cloning. Do you think at this stage the majority of your colleagues will support your proposal to allow therapeutic cloning? 


KAY PATTERSON: I don't know, but I think it should be tested. It's a debate that the community should have, it's a debate the Parliament should have. If it doesn't get up, well then at least I've tried.  


But one of my concerns is that the work is being done in Sweden, in America, at Harvard and at UCLA, the University of California, San Francisco, in Britain.  


My question is, if they are to develop a therapeutic treatment, and I'm not saying it's going to happen tomorrow - to give people false hope I think is improper, if there's to be a treatment it will be a long way down the track - but if there is a therapeutic outcome, would we reject it in Australia?  


I think the answer is no. I think if we had a treatment for Type 1 Diabetes and we said, oh we thought it was wrong to do somatic cell transfer so we're not going to accept the treatment, I think there'd be an outcry from the community.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Senator Kay Patterson, thanks very much for joining us.  


KAY PATTERSON: Thank you very much.  


MARK COLVIN: Senator Patterson is former Health Minister who's going to bring forward a Bill on therapeutic cloning. She was talking to Alexandra Kirk.