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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6192

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (11:29 AM) —I believe this debate has been conducted in a very civil way, but Senator Harradine did actually say that human embryos will be `killed' to create stem cells. Let me say—and I said last night that I did not want to use the euphemism `succumb'—that human embryos are killed when they are excess embryos, and so those embryos would have been killed whatever. We do not want to use euphemisms like `succumb'—I said `die'— but defreezing them kills them. These embryos would have died—would have been killed—anyway. I am just making that point.

I will be opposing any amendments which seek to ban the offering or receiving of valuable consideration for human embryonic stem cells or any other product derived from the human embryo. The effect of the proposed amendments is quite far-reaching. I believe it goes well beyond the COAG decision and also acts as a serious disincentive for research in Australia—something which is contrary to the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002. I understand that some people in this chamber are totally opposed to embryonic stem cell research—and that is the difficulty in having this debate, because people are coming from a totally different premise. The proposed amendments would ban the receipt of any valuable consideration for the offering or receipt of embryonic stem cell lines and any products of embryonic stem cell lines. This means that not only can money not be exchanged but no inducement of any kind can be offered in relation to stem cell lines.

It is inconsistent with current international practice, whereby researchers who have embryonic stem cell lines are making those lines available to others for valuable consideration. For example, I am aware of an Australian company that have an agreement with the Public Health Service of the US government to make embryonic stem cell lines available to the Public Health Service or researchers funded by them. While the agreement does not provide for exchange of money for stem cell lines, it does provide that the Australian company can enter agreements for commercialisation of materials developed by the Public Health Service or its researchers, using ES Cell International stem cell lines on terms not less favourable than other similar commercial agreements granted by the company. As the proposed amendments ban any `valuable consideration' from being offered or received for stem cell lines, these existing arrangements with the US government would be illegal.

Another consequence of Senator Harradine's proposed amendments is that no valuable consideration could be offered for any therapies that may be derived from the use of human embryos and embryonic stem cells. One of the major issues that has been discussed during the debate on the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002 is whether the use of embryonic stem cells may give rise in future to potential therapies to treat life-threatening illnesses. If we ban payment for any therapies that may be developed from stem cells, we are effectively saying that Australian patients may be denied access to any such future therapies. The legislation would prohibit payment for any therapies that were developed overseas and imported into Australia. Australians could not even buy any therapies that were developed by Australian companies.

As I mentioned, I consider that the proposed amendments have far-reaching, undesirable effects and go beyond the scope of the COAG decision, which expressly excluded the regulation of embryonic stem cells. I therefore oppose Senator Harradine's amendments (7) and (8) in relation to clause 23.