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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6286

Senator HARRADINE (8:10 PM) —My question has still not been answered. I asked: why is this to be a private review? Why is it not to be a public review so that this can all be out in the open? Never mind what has happened, for example, to the NHMRC over a number of years, where things are done secretly. I say that through experience, because it was the NHMRC that incorrectly defined cloning when the officer concerned wrote to the states. He told the states that the NHMRC sees a distinction between reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning. So outrageous was that that the Australian Health Ethics Committee, which is part of the NHMRC, said in an open statement that that was wrong. That information was provided to the committee and was clearly stated by the Australian Health Ethics Committee chairman. Page 17 of the committee's report states:

The distinction between `therapeutic' and `non-therapeutic' scientific or medical research was made in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki, and revised in Tokyo in 1975. This declaration was confirmed by the World Health Organisation and the Council for International Organisations of Medical Sciences as the basis for international guidelines for biomedical research involving human subjects.

According to that distinction, `therapeutic' research is research or practice carried out where the procedure is or is expected to be of benefit to the subject of the research. `Non-therapeutic' research does not directly benefit the subject of the research, although it may be of benefit to others or to scientific understanding in general.

It is very important to be clear on this because, as was indicated by that definition, if the subject of the medical experiments is a human embryo, that is not therapeutic cloning. Rather, that is non-therapeutic so far as the embryo is concerned.

The distinction was affirmed by the Australian Health Ethics Committee when the doctor concerned, who was the COAG officer in charge of developing this bill, made his statement saying that therapeutic cloning is distinct from reproductive cloning. The chair of the Australian Health Ethics Committee, the principal committee of the NHMRC, said:

Therapeutic interventions are interventions directed towards the wellbeing of the individual embryo involved and non-therapeutic interventions are interventions that are not directed towards the benefit of the individual embryo but rather towards improving scientific knowledge or technical application. Non-therapeutic experimentation includes both non-destructive procedures (which include observation) and destructive procedures ...

The more-recently-coined term `therapeutic cloning' collapses both (a) the distinction between therapeutic and non-therapeutic research on embryos and (b) the distinction between destructive and non-destructive experimentation on embryos. The creation of embryos specifically for research purposes, experimentation on those embryos and their subsequent destruction, etc. all fall under this term. It was because of the lack of transparency of the term `therapeutic cloning', because the term concealed rather than revealed these ethically-significant differences, that AHEC rejected its use.

The Australian Health Ethics Committee has rejected the use of the term `therapeutic cloning'. It is a behaviour-governing term and is quite contrary to the principle of medical research.

What is happening here? Mark my words, in the next two or three years there will be a significant attempt to say, `Oh, we don't want reproductive cloning,' but they will say that they need therapeutic cloning. Well, they cannot really say `therapeutic cloning', because they have been proven wrong there, so they will call it something else, whereas it is exactly the same thing, exactly the same process: the process of somatic cell nuclear transfer, where the cell is taken from an adult and placed into an enucleated egg. There is an electrical current, and fusion occurs sometimes, if at all. Say there are two resultant embryos. One might be placed into the body of a woman and the other could be carved up to get the stem cells, thus destroying the embryo. That is why we need to be perfectly clear in legislation what we are doing about it. We need to hear what certain scientists are saying about this publicly. Do they have a vested interest? Of course there is a vested interest with a number of them. You have heard that there are a wide range of claims being made or requests being indicated: `When the time comes, yes, we will be pushing for cloning.' That is what this review is all about. If it is not about that, why have the review? The bill bans cloning. Why shouldn't it be left at that?

The bill bans cloning. You are proposing to have review of that ban in two years time. Then, according to this bill, the report must be made not later than three years after the royal assent. Under those circumstances, because it is of major public interest, why is it to be a private review? Why shouldn't the public and others with expertise, for example, hear evidence given to the review by those people? My question again is: why should it not be public?