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Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Page: 6068

Senator COLBECK (1:35 PM) —In rising to speak to the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002, I would like to acknowledge the many people who have contacted me both in support of and in opposition to this bill. I thank those who took the time to prepare their own submissions, which I found to be informative and to appropriately express what obviously are very firmly held views on each side of the argument. For some, this is a fundamental issue and I respect sincerely their views and thank them for their efforts. I do not intend to repeat what has gone before me; the debate to this point has been extremely extensive.

One point I would like to touch on, though, relates to what has been at the core of many representations—that is, the preservation of the commencement of human life as being fundamental to the argument. Only one representation to me has expressed an argument for preservation of the embryo at all costs. In my view, if this is to be an argument, you must be either inside the tent or outside the tent—there is no halfway house. Likewise, senators in the chamber and members in the other place have used the same argument: the fundamental issue is the sanctity of these cells, these embryos, as human life. Yet, not one has argued for the complete preservation of these cells. They are all content for them to die by human hand. It will be a human hand that will take them from their refrigerated container, just as it will be a human hand that will perform the proposed scientific experiments. Surely, if the argument is so compelling for the preservation of these cells, their complete protection should be the goal—in other words: why open the freezer in the first place?

Many people have made representations in this debate, and it disturbs me that the veracity of their evidence and their reputations have been questioned—essentially on the basis of agreement or otherwise with the views expressed. This is a very difficult debate, and I do not think anyone would argue with that. But during the proceedings of the committee conducting the inquiry into this bill, I have been disturbed to watch the approach taken to some of the witnesses. In my view, however significant our passions, some level of civility should remain.

For me, the question has been what the ultimate fate of these cells of human tissue will be. It has essentially already been determined by both sides of this debate that the cells are to be destroyed. In my view, with regard to where we sit at this point in time, a case exists to pursue research on both embryonic and adult stem cells. It seems clear to me at this point in time that the two avenues of research are complementary. That of course may change but, without the benefit of a crystal ball, we can but speculate. Until clear evidence is available that this research is of absolutely no value—and, in my opinion, that has not been established, despite the claims of opponents—it has my support.

Senator Crossin last night placed on the record statistics relating to the wishes of those for whom these embryos have been produced, so I shall not repeat them. But I reinforce that some 60 per cent of the parents are prepared to donate cells for research. This is a very important matter. Not only is the statistic significant in its own right; the fact that the parents have the choice and the final say as to the use of the embryo also makes a significant difference. During this debate, scientists have been portrayed as having taken control of the fate of these cells, yet the final say rests not with the scientists or the researchers but with the parents. It is they who will decide whether their embryo will end its time potentially making a contribution to the greater good of mankind. In my view, that and the other protections contained in this bill make it worth supporting.