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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7270

Senator HARRADINE (12:43 PM) —I would like to introduce the Senate to Luke Borden. Luke was an excess IVF embryo, left over after IVF treatment. Luke and his twin brother were adopted and are doing well. What the Senate has done today is hand thousands of embryos like Luke over to the researchers and say: `They're all yours. Experiment on them as you will—cut them up, dissect them, test them on drugs or cosmetics; they're all yours.' Today we have stripped the embryo of its humanity for utilitarian purposes. We have defined the human embryo as research fodder in the interests of the biotechnology industry. The Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002 sets a precedent for the vivisection of living human embryos. It will entrench the commercialism and commodification of human life.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Harradine, it being 12.45 p.m.—

Senator HARRADINE —I seek leave to incorporate the remainder of my speech.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

In the words of a witness to the recent Senate committee inquiry, the bill will permit “the statutory creation of a biological underclass: those unworthy of life but worthy of sacrifice on the commercial slab of experimentation”.

Human rights commentator Katrina Hallen told the Community Affairs Committee:

The use of one group of the human family to serve as experimental subjects, or spare parts resources, for another group is exploitative and abusive. The use of human embryos to serve as experimental subjects for the interests of science, creates a group of human individuals that can be used and destroyed for another group of human individuals. This violates the ethical principles of doing no harm, benefiting the subject experimented on, autonomy, justice and the sanctity of human life.

Despite hours of debate on this bill, much confusion still remains. Many people still think this bill is about stem cells.

During second reading debate Senator Lees made the incredible statement that:

In dealing with the question here, we need to be clear about what this research actually does and does not do. It does not propose experimentation on human embryos per se.

But that is exactly what the bill does. It permits using embryos in drug and toxicology testing, in training IVF clinicians in lasering, cutting and dissecting and for “quality assurance” in genetic testing. Any use of human embryos which the licensing committee thinks worthwhile will be approved under this bill.

There is no regulation of industrial and other uses of human embryonic stem cells. There is no restriction on their export or trade. There is no provision even to track the uses of stem cells or to keep donors informed of their end-use. Indeed, such trade will create its own momentum. As one committee witness said: “Where vast sums of money are at stake, it would be impossible to regulate such research so effectively as to prevent more and more destructive research, requiring more and more embryos, be they bar-coded, fresh, frozen.”

In evidence to the Committee inquiry on the bill, an ethicist stated:

We are seeing a whole opening up of this area to unregulated, unrestricted and unsurveyed research on both the stem cells and the embryos. You ask questions like these: who stops the stem cells finishing up in cosmetics and who' stops them being sent for biowarfare to one of the less democratic regimes i the world? Remember, they can be sold off. Alan Trounson was talking earlier about buying and selling the stem cells. If he has got products here in Australia within the companies that he is associated with, what stops those companies selling them to anybody?

I put up a number of what were very reasonable amendments to this Bill, which in other circumstances and on other subjects most people in this chamber would normally support. These amendments went to the important issues of consumers' right to know, conscientious objection, disclosure, and whistleblower protection. I feel these were voted down for political reasons and not because of a decision arrived at after consideration of the substantive issues.

Shouldn't consumers have a right to know whether pharmaceuticals and cosmetics are tested, created or manufactured using human embryos? Why is it ok to tell people they might be eating GM foods, but not tell them they might be consuming products derived from human embryos?

Conscientious objection is another one. Senators have been given a conscience vote on this issue— consumers should at least have been given the right to full information on whether or not they use products which have been tested, created or manufactured using human embryos so that they can exercise their own conscience.

But the minister said this was all too hard for this “strict regulatory regime”—it was burdensome. Well what about the burden on people who would have no way of knowing whether they are using drugs that involved the destruction of human embryos? What about the people who find out that the drugs they have been taking were derived using human embryos—a practice ethically repugnant to them? Don't you care about them?

And why couldn't we protect the rights of workers and students to conscientiously object to participation in destructive embryos research?

Don't we believe in the fundamental right not to be personally complicit in what one sees as morally and ethically objectionable practices?

The Democrats kept saying—“this bill is not the place for these amendments”. Well, if not now, when? How long can we wait? Senator Stott Despoja herself has been waiting since 1996 for her patents amendment bill. Her genetic privacy and non-discrimination bill has gone no-where since 1998. She of all people should! know how long these things take. We need consumer protection now. We need protection for conscientious objection now. We need whistleblower protection now.

I want to express my great appreciating to those many Senators who have understood the serious public policy implications of this Bill and have given support to my amendments. I want to especially thank all those who may not share my views on some other issues but who are open minded enough and not bound by political expediency to consider the amendments on their merits.

I also proposed an amendment to prohibit the use of human embryos or human embryonic stem cells in the testing, creation or manufacture of pharmaceuticals or cosmetics. Research involving pharmaceuticals and cosmetics is among the most likely uses of human embryos due to the potential financial returns.

Dr Peter Mountford is the Chief Executive of Stem Cell Sciences. An article in The Australian of 1 April reported:

“Dr Mountford has never produced a human embryo, but holds a patent on technology he believes will achieve this result by the end of 2002. He plans to commercialise the process within two years by supplying disease-carrying embryonic stem cells to pharmaceutical companies for drug screening.”

But this amendment was rejected. In a climate where we are moving away from testing drugs and cosmetics on live animals because of ethical concerns about this practice, it is disturbing that we are about to substitute live human embryos as the preferred laboratory animal for drug and cosmetic testing.

Human research ethics committees

In explaining the licensing system during the committee stages of the Bill the Minister stated that “Before an application can be made to the NHMRC Licensing Committee, it must first be evaluated and approved by an institutional human research ethics committee”. When asked whether, in this supposedly open and transparent system, the decision of the human research ethics committees would be made available to the public, the Minister said “it is not necessarily available to the public” and later she admitted that “the evaluation will not be made public”.

Given the ethics committee is appointed by the institution making the application I cannot imagine an institution appointing someone to their committee who is likely to give them any difficulty in getting applications approved—it would not be sensible for them to do so. I tried to have those decisions made public, but the numbers were apparently not there to support the amendment. Without having the decisions of ethics committees made publicly accountable, we will never know whether the process is rigorous.

When this bill passes—as it seems it will—Parliament will have abrogated the foundational principle of the uniform protection of human life. It will have facilitated the deliberate destruction of human life for radically utilitarian, commercial purposes.

The PRESIDENT —I am obliged by the order of the Senate to put the question on the third reading of the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002 at 12.45 p.m., and I intend to do that. The question now is that the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002 be read a third time.